On Plums, Poetry, Public Transit, and William Carlos Williams

If you look up as you walk through the back door into my kitchen, you might be surprised to see an orange poster with a Swedish translation of a poem written in 1934 by the great poet William Carlos Williams. Dr. Williams was also a pediatrician from Rutherford, New Jersey. Since this month is National Poetry Month, I thought I would share how this poem ended up in my kitchen.  Here it is in the original:

This is Just to Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold


One morning, as I was moving around the kitchen trying to decide what we should eat for breakfast, I was reminded of a poem that I had written out and hung on my bedroom door many years earlier, as an adolescent. “This is just to say,” I began to recite aloud, and my three young children stood riveted as I spoke the poem from memory. “That’s not a poem,” they protested. “You made that up!”

I picked up my cell phone to call my brother. “Forgive me for waking you,” I said, “but I need a favor.” Their dark, round eyes grew big as plums while he completed the prompt I supplied.

The children saved their delicious new discovery to share with their father over breakfast.  Now we all knew the poem.

Some years later, their sweet father, in Sweden on a layover, took the opportunity to visit friends spending a cold and lonely winter in Stockholm. In their kitchen, a brightly colored poster leaned against the icebox, a remnant from a citywide poetry festival the previous fall. Poems had been placed in public transit throughout the city, and riders had been encouraged to take them home once the celebration had ended. “What does it say?” asked my inquisitive husband, and our friends began to translate, “This is just to say…”

I cannot say exactly why, but I have loved this poem since the first time I read it as a child. I did not know until years later that its author was a doctor from New Jersey. I did not know that someday I would place great personal and professional importance on fresh fruit, or that my grandfather’s preferred choice of the word “icebox” would stay with me all my life. Some things just are.

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