Breakfast at Little Goat Diner followed by an inaugural poem.

This morning I woke up early, too early. I had big plans. A close friend who lives very far away, too far to see often, is in town this week, for work. So we decided to meet for breakfast. Which was super exciting, as it meant we got to check out Stephanie Izard’s newest restaurant, Little Goat Diner (http://littlegoatchicago.com/diner/).

OMG — it was so good! Put on your hat scarf gloves parka and every other warm thing you own (because it is ridiculously cold, even if you didn’t just arrive from Thailand) and go, right now. The space is warm and comfortable, with a bright, friendly vibe. And the food is delicious. I had the Bull’s Eye French Toast, which is described on the menu as follows: “crispy chicken . sweet onion brioche . bbq maple syrup.” Sort’ve like chicken and waffles, right? Yes, but more.

First, there were the gooseberries. At first I wasn’t quite sure what they were, these shriveled rounds of gold strewn atop the toast. I guessed gooseberries, because, well, what else could they be? But, never having had a gooseberry before, I wasn’t certain. And also they tasted pickled. Which was a perfect accompaniment to the savory sweet maple syrup drenched onion bread but kind’ve weird. I had to know for sure. So I asked the waiter.

It turns out that yes, they were indeed gooseberries, but not pickled. Just plain gooseberries, which are waiter likened to a cross between strawberries and tomatoes. Honestly, I didn’t taste any either of these fruits. Just a delightfully sweet vinegary pucker. But perhaps my palate wasn’t at its most sensitive. Because as delicious as it is, this is not subtle food. Which is fine with me.

The second surprise, which the menu does suggest and which I feel a fool not to have anticipated, were the eggs. Yes, the Bull’s Eye. Or Eyes. Because there were two, one cooked into the center of each toast. I discovered the first by accident, when I cut into the toast and saw thick yolk running out of the perfectly cooked white. If you try this dish, make sure to go for the egg straight away. Because while my egg-free bites were very good, the remainder, each a perfect combination (because I’m a bit obsessive that way) of chicken, toast, egg, gooseberry, and syrup, were momentous.

If this was a proper review, I would now describe my companion’s meal. She ordered the “kimchee & bacon & eggs & pancakes asian style breakfast tasty thing.” Unfortunately, however, I can’t tell you anything except that she liked it a lot. I didn’t even taste a bite! I meant to, I swear, but I didn’t think the flavors would be compatible. So I wanted to wait. And then I was too full. But I can tell you that it is the chef’s favorite, at least according to Chicago Magazine (http://www.chicagomag.com/Chicago-Magazine/November-2012/Stephanie-Izards-Little-Goat-Is-a-Big-Time-Diner/). I’ll try it next time.

After breakfast, we foolishly walked back to the hotel. Under normal circumstances it would have been pleasant, even fun. It wasn’t far. But today is one of those cruelly cold Chicago winter days, where the clear blue sky and bright sun exist primarily to illuminate the deadly patches of black ice that lurk on sidewalks, waiting to trip the unwary. Full, happy, healthy, we survived the walk without suffering anything worse than reddened noses. Yet we passed more than one person who appeared not to share our good fortune. We talked about homelessness and what will happen tonight to those people who live, whether by bad fortune or choice, outside of society. And then we went on with our days.

The public ceremonies for President Obama’s second inauguration are being held today, this year’s Martin Luther King Day. It’s a big day. Important. Exciting. Full of love and hope and weighty thoughts about the responsibilities we bear for our fellow humans, our planet, our past, our future. Yet none of that was on my mind when I started the day. On my way home, however, while reading everyone’s posts on Facebook about the inauguration, I remembered the inaugural poem.

When I got home, I had missed the live action. So I was able to read the poem first. Then I watched and listened to Richard read before an audience that included the Obama’s and the Biden’s and the members of the Supreme Court and Eric Cantor (who seemed not to be enjoying himself), and untold numbers of others, many of whom seemed as moved as I by these words about humanity and hope and inclusiveness and what it means to be a human being living and working in America. I then read the poem again.

In case you have not yet seen and/or heard it, here’s a link followed by the text. Namaste.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2013/01/21/169905447/watch-one-today-an-inaugural-poem

One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores,
peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces
of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth
across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies.
One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story
told by our silent gestures moving behind windows.
My face, your face, millions of faces in morning’s mirrors,
each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day:
pencil-yellow school buses, the rhythm of traffic lights,
fruit stands: apples, limes, and oranges arrayed like rainbows
begging our praise. Silver trucks heavy with oil or paper—
bricks or milk, teeming over highways alongside us,
on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives—
to teach geometry, or ring-up groceries as my mother did
for twenty years, so I could write this poem.

All of us as vital as the one light we move through,
the same light on blackboards with lessons for the day:
equations to solve, history to question, or atoms imagined,
the “I have a dream” we keep dreaming,
or the impossible vocabulary of sorrow that won’t explain
the empty desks of twenty children marked absent
today, and forever. Many prayers, but one light
breathing color into stained glass windows,
life into the faces of bronze statues, warmth
onto the steps of our museums and park benches 2
as mothers watch children slide into the day.

One ground. Our ground, rooting us to every stalk
of corn, every head of wheat sown by sweat
and hands, hands gleaning coal or planting windmills
in deserts and hilltops that keep us warm, hands
digging trenches, routing pipes and cables, hands
as worn as my father’s cutting sugarcane
so my brother and I could have books and shoes.

The dust of farms and deserts, cities and plains
mingled by one wind—our breath. Breathe. Hear it
through the day’s gorgeous din of honking cabs,
buses launching down avenues, the symphony
of footsteps, guitars, and screeching subways,
the unexpected song bird on your clothes line.

Hear: squeaky playground swings, trains whistling, or whispers across café tables, Hear: the doors we open for each other all day, saying: hello

shalom, buon giorno

howdy

namaste or buenos días

in the language my mother taught me—in every language

spoken into one wind carrying our lives

without prejudice, as these words break from my lips.

One sky: since the Appalachians and Sierras claimed
their majesty, and the Mississippi and Colorado worked
their way to the sea. Thank the work of our hands:
weaving steel into bridges, finishing one more report
for the boss on time, stitching another wound 3
or uniform, the first brush stroke on a portrait,
or the last floor on the Freedom Tower
jutting into a sky that yields to our resilience.

One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes
tired from work: some days guessing at the weather
of our lives, some days giving thanks for a love
that loves you back, sometimes praising a mother
who knew how to give, or forgiving a father
who couldn’t give what you wanted.

We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight
of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always—home,
always under one sky, our sky. And always one moon
like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop
and every window, of one country—all of us—
facing the stars
hope—a new constellation
waiting for us to map it,
waiting for us to name it—together

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