Henry and I were in his room, where a few bookshelves still live, looking at the spines. The Great Fires by Jack Gilbert was in my sightline, so I pulled it down and flipped through a few pages. I landed on the poem below.
I've been thinking about the ordinary moments that make up our days. Like the times I spend sitting on the couch with Henry tucked into my lap.
He reaches for pages in a book or pushes buttons on his toy dump truck while I rest my chin on his head, smell his hair.
He smiles at himself when we walk by the mirror in the dining room. I'll look straight into the eyes he most certainly inherited from my husband, still surprised he was once inside my body.
He is currently entranced by the silver mixing bowl attached to my KitchenAid.
He nibbles on broccoli and cucumber, delighted by the texture in his mouth, and is trying his very hardest to crawl.
These are the kinds of moments today's poem wants you to hold on to.
Highlights and Interstices
By Jack Gilbert
We think of lifetimes as mostly the exceptional
and sorrows. Marriage we remember as the children,
vacations, and emergencies. The uncommon parts.
But the best is often when nothing is happening.
The way a mother picks up the child almost without
noticing and carries her across Waller Street
while talking with the other woman. What if she
could keep all of that? Our lives happen between
the memorable. I have lost two thousand habitual
breakfasts with Michiko. What I miss most about
her is that commonplace I can no longer remember.
from The Great Fires (Knopf, 1996)
So many of the poems in this collection are about his late wife. There are tender moments of beauty and love, and also a twinge of fear that all the "commonplace" memories he once held are slipping away.
If "our lives happen between the memorable," I suppose it would benefit us to refocus our efforts. The most obvious memorable moments will surely come as the months and years go by, but it's in our daily routines when our lives are truly lived, moment to moment.
Saturday is a memory-making kind of day, when we have a ritual of making pancakes. It's done so often now that whisking flour and eggs and buttermilk has become second nature. Just last weekend I told Henry I'd teach him the basic recipe one day so he can have it when he goes away to college.
It might be a little early to start passing along kitchen skills, but what I was trying to say just then is we will be making pancakes for a long time. We will eat them often enough to make uncommon memories.
WHOLE GRAIN VANILLA PANCAKES
A bit of vanilla extract perfumes the pancakes just enough without being overpowering. I often mix several flours together for pancakes. It adds variety, and is a great way to utilize all the bags I amass in the pantry.
Makes about 9 pancakes
1/2 cup spelt flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup oat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup maple syrup, plus more for serving
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
2 tablespoons melted butter, plus more for serving
Coconut oil, for cooking
Whisk the dry ingredients in a large bowl. In a glass measuring cup or small bowl, whisk the buttermilk, maple syrup, vanilla, and egg. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients; gently stir until combined and only a few traces of flour remain. Drizzle in the melted butter and mix until incorporated. If the batter seems thick, add up to 2 tablespoons more buttermilk.
Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat for several minutes. Melt a small knob of coconut oil in the pan. When the oil is glistening, add a scant ¼ cup of batter; press the pancake lightly with the bottom of the measuring cup to help it spread slightly. Cook until the surface begins to bubble and the bottom is golden brown, about 3 minutes. Flip and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes. Serve with butter and maple syrup.