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Quaker Oats by Rita Dove

Quaker Oats

by Rita Dove

The grain elevators have stood empty for years. They used to

feed an entire nation of children. Hunched in red leatherette

breakfast-nooks, fingers dreaming, children let their spoons

clack on the white sides of their bowls. They stare at the carton

on the table, a miniature silo with a kindly face smiling under a

stiff black hat.

They eats their oats with milk and butter and sugar. They eat

their oats in their sleep, where horsedrawn carts jolt among miry

roads, passed cabins where other children wait, half-frozen under

tattered counterpanes. The man with the black hat, a burlap sack

tucked under his arm, steps down from the wagon whispering

come out, don’t be afraid.

And they come, the sick and the healthy; the red, the brown, the

white; the ruddy and the sallow; the curly and the lank. They

tumble from rafters and crawl out of trundles. He gives them to

eat. He gives them prayers and a good start in the morning. He

gives them free enterprise; he gives them the flag and PA systems

and roller skates and citizenship. He gives them a tawny canoe to

portage overland, through the woods, through the midwestern


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