SOME were vegetarians, while some preferred mostly meat, and some were in between. We supplied all with good food that met their standards and needs, but none of them escaped the requirement that each of us - guests, cooks, members of the family, and even afternoon visitors - would read a poem, of that day's creation, to earn dinner.
Laura - mother, wife, one of the nominal heads of household, and primary cook - established the rule. Our daughters, Juniper and Amanda, brought unsuspecting guests home with them during their break from college.
Juniper and Amanda both took a class from a sparklingly creative teacher and poet. This lover of original similes and metaphors recommended that everyone write a poem a day and required his students - as willing as native trout leaping from a pool - to write a poem a week. Laura, hearing of his requirement, said, "We will require a poem from everyone every day before dinner."
Understanding that procrastination fells more students than a double-bitted axe through stout pines, she added, "Everyone who wants to eat dinner. No poem, no dinner. But the poem can be anything - funny, serious, short, long, bad, or good."
Liz, a friend who was staying with us at the time of the decree, looked like someone who suddenly thought dinner might become as scarce as sharks in our nearby small stream.
Juniper reassured her: "They don't have to be good. Any kind of poem will do."
Liz relaxed even further when I started the readings that evening with a very bad poem, worthy only to begin the organic activity within a slow-to-work compost pile. I didn't do it to encourage Liz, nor to show her that every aspiring poet would be treated gently by family and guests. I just started late, wrote fast, and was abandoned by every muse.
We wrote early in the day or at the last minute as dinner arrived on the table. Laura turned out to be a wonderful writer of limericks, interspersed with more serious, highly metaphorical efforts.
I think Liz became pleased with what she could write under pain of hunger. I know she was pleased with the dinners that followed, and we were all pleased with what she read aloud and, in fact, with all of our poetic efforts.
When Brett came up the mountain for the afternoon, he too was required to write and read.
He and Juniper helped Amanda make the salad (humankind cannot live by poetry alone), and when everyone read before dinner, Brett's and Juniper's poems, while very different from each other, shared the subject of radishes. We all clapped just before we bit into slices of radishes in the salad.
Now we are back down to three, and Amanda will fly east to college on Saturday. By ourselves, Laura and I will probably not adhere to the rule of a poem for every dinner. But be forewarned, all future guests. The rule will apply.
After the first momentary trepidation at writing and performing under pressure, all of us will be enriched by sharing the warmth of everyone's appreciation for the performer's effort; each of us will increase the size of our poetry portfolio; and last but by no means least, each will be given leave to dig into a vegetarian dinner, or one of mostly meat, or even one somewhere in between.