On Tuesday the latch knob hurtles off the toaster,
startles me, small silver bullet of the morning.
On Wednesday, pressing down the lever,
I flinch and take a half step back.
On Thursday, we can only use the right side.
The sunken toast in the left unit cools
and shrinks back to bread, flakes off
on the knife dipping down to draw it up.
On Friday, the “warm” setting
sears my store-brand slice to cinders.
The first foible was funny, our kitchen fable,
but soon we’re fixed to new formations:
making the kids’ breakfast one slice at a time,
leaning on the lever at arms’ length,
wondering out loud whether these things
are even made to be repaired
or if we’ll just keep living around them.
Image: “Toaster Wars” by JMacPherson, licensed under CC 2.0.
I was in an informal poetry class when the teacher commented that the word “appliances” (as used in someone’s poem) was not very “poetic.” I felt an immediate opposition to the idea that certain words were or were not poetic, in and of themselves. And I resented an underlying idea (perhaps not his idea, but certainly an idea present in the wider culture) that housework is not a meaningful subject for art. We see housework as “women’s work,” and we don’t value women’s work very highly.
After a lively and amicable debate about the word “appliances” and the place of appliances in poetry, I resolved to go home and write a poem that included the word.
With the idea of writing about appliances, I started with our toaster. We’ve tried cheap toasters and expensive ones, but they all break down. (They’re nearly impossible to successfully fix, since our economy is based on the production of objects that are not built to last or to be repaired.) I didn’t have any idea what the poem was really “about” until I wrote down the last two lines and discovered it was also a poem about relationships.