While waiting at a stoplight last year, I witnessed something that stayed with me. A homeless man stood on the divider holding up his cardboard sign asking for food and money and help, and in the minute before my light turned green, I watched from my rear view mirror as a man extended his hand with a few bills. It was one of those gestures that likely went unnoticed to most, but the kindness of this stranger informed the rest of my morning. I couldn't help but smile, shake off my frustrations, and believe that it was going to be a good day. Reading this poem by Colleen Michaels helped me remember the experience, because her poem captures the joy of doing something for others.
For the Buyer of Breakfasts in Salem
By Colleen Michaels
I wish for you a lifetime of eggs
over easy, poached, sunny side up
on a raft, scrambled with Vermont cheddar
I wish for you that every time you walk
into the diner on Washington St.
somebody says, “What do ya know, Jo.
You’re that guy, the one who secretly
shelled out to strangers. Just ‘cause.
Hot ticket. Mayor of the counter.”
I wish for you that when the story gets
english muffin dry and day old stale
you will still be known as a lumber jack.
Pass him the sports page, pass him the syrup
give him a warm up, little creamers on ice.
No, bring him the real milk from the cooler.
Every small generosity is now yours to pocket:
parcels and postcards, secret santas,
the resurrection of men’s hat departments.
All those hats worn by other nice men
who will search for you on sidewalks
just for the opportunity to tip a brim in your direction.
I wish for you full satisfaction:
not from the silver-dollar pancakes
which are on the house at my thank-you counter,
but because, when I took your cue
and bought dessert for the couple two tables over,
it tasted sweeter than cannoli.
"For the Buyer of Breakfasts in Salem" by Colleen Michaels. Reprinted with permission from the author. Colleen Michaels directs the Writing Studio at Montserrat College of Art where she hosts the Improbable Places Poetry Tour. If you'd like to watch this poem being read live, click here for the video.
Food is flecked throughout the poem like pepper sprinkled on the sunny side up eggs in the first stanza. It's here that I took my cue for the recipe, creating an egg and arugula scramble with the Vermont cheddar the speaker is wishing for. Feel free to serve the eggs on an English muffin or "day old stale" slices of toast, if you have them.
There's the old adage, "it feels better to give than to receive," which I've found in my experience to almost always be true. In this poem, we witness a moment of paying it forward when one act of generosity triggers another. I find the melodic repetition of "I wish for you" a comforting addition, as if the speaker is driving home the final point, that giving, in the same way she had witnessed earlier in the poem, "tasted sweeter than cannolli."
Serve on its own, or on a toasted English muffin.
Serves 2 generously
Freshly cracked pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup grated Vermont cheddar
2 cups lightly packed arugula or spinach
Crack the eggs into a bowl and whisk to combine. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper.
Heat a sauté pan over low heat and warm the extra-virgin olive oil. Add the eggs, then let cook for a few minutes before stirring. The goal is to cook the eggs low and slow so they're creamy and tender, not tough. Check on them every couple of minutes, giving them a gentle stir, until the whites are just set.
Turn off the heat, then add the cheddar and arugula; fold in gently. The residual heat will help melt the cheese and wilt the greens. Add another crack of fresh pepper and serve.