Breakfast Reading
after Tony Hoagland*

They say that you shouldn’t eat while reading, or watching TV, or doing something else—it’s a standard-issue diet recommendation. The idea, I think, is to focus on eating, the sensations of taste and chewing, the changing complex internal gauges of hunger and filledness. Those who eat as a background activity, minor accompaniment to frolicking melody of attention, are doomed to eat too much and get fat. Or, at least, they’re missing out.

In Sinhala you say “burning-belly” to mean that you are hungry.

Chloe from Swarthmore read books about nutrition, new-agey and earnest, with recommendations about mastication and glasses of water at specific temperatures and times. Alex, listening to this litany of handclasped wrinklebrowed scheduling, said,

“If I don’t read while eating, I don’t have time to eat. Or read.”

In this country where I eat kale and onion omelettes and American cheese on toast for breakfast, where I can taste the cow in the tea-milk, where the February morning sun toasts the verandah’s boungainvilleas in the same way that it has since October, I have two choices:

Carry the crockery out to the porch and listen to Party Shuffle, muffled, from inside the apartment as it paces through Air, Afrobeat, Django, Dylan, and Fiddler on the Roof (Original London Cast Recording); watch the restless palms riffle their long fingerfronds until the tea is cold and the crows are eyeing the toastcrusts—

Or, sit in my reading-chair and balance the mug and plate on lap and not-flat armrest, and with awkward left hand hold flat the pages of whatever: history, theory, polemic, fluff, Rushdie.

It’s not that I don’t love the palms and crows, the sun pouring down like hot sticky kithul syrup. Just: eggs go down better with distraction, and eating alone reminds me that there are months upon months of meals still to be cooked and eaten, pages to be read and written. I worry only a little of hypothetical fattening because, book or not, I always clean my plate—not enough to save, too much to throw away.

The danger, if you’re me, is that reading goes on forever and eating only somewhat less long.

*Many thanks to Mark for introducing me to this wonderful poet and Genie for inspiring me to totally rip him off.

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