So this is how it went:
I was randomly sampling poems in a copy of Kevin Young's wonderfully edited anthology of food poems, The Hungry Ear, enjoying work by Elizabeth Alexander, Sharon Olds, Mark Doty, Pablo Neruda, and Ruth Stone, among others (the great thing about this book is that it contains poems by a diverse array of mostly contemporary poets; many I've never read before--goodness knows how permissions were handled; I surmise it was a feat getting all the living poets to sign contracts!).
Among the poems I read was Jane Kenyon's "Potatoes," in which she laments that she tossed a potato only half rotten in with "the consort of coffee grounds / banana skins, carrot peelings," how this potato, despite being delegated to the "steaming scraps and leaves," "turned up / unfailingly, as if to revile me-- / looking plumper, firmer, resurrected / instead of dissembling." She surmises she might have made a "shepherd's pie for a whole hamlet" with that only-one-end-spoiled potato.
I couldn't get this lowly potato off my mind. I thought about the half-rotted veggies and fruit I often toss into the compost, feeling what Kenyon must've been feeling: that the impulse to throw away something only half-rotten is akin to seeing the cup half empty instead of half full, to not appreciate the joy in one's life when there's only a small blight of misery at one end of our healthy potato lives.
The next day I was out in the garden gathering up the last of the season's cherry tomatoes. A few were split open, but when I sniffed for the smell of rot I sniffed only fresh tomato. They weren't slimy or swarming with gnats, so I brought them into the house, then went searching for a recipe to make good use of them. It turns out roasting is the best way to deal with half-green, half-spent tomatoes. I had transformed what could have been tossed into the compost pile into a delectable treat to be spooned into a pasta dish along with feta, kalamata olives, capers, fresh thyme. Bon appetit!
I know Auden's quote is oft repeated, and out of context. What he actually wrote is:
For poetry makes nothing happen; it survives In the valley of its making where executives Would never want to tamper, flows on south From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs, Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives, A way of happening, a mouth.
But still I persist in reveling in the fact that poetry makes things happen (at least for me) nearly every day -- because unlike people who claim they don't *get* poetry, I read it daily. Kenyon's poem has permanently altered my view of bruised or imperfect produce (the literally less than perfect) but reminded me to see past the surface blemishes toward what is not only usable and bearable, but welcome (the figurative). And she has done it with poetry, where executives in fact should tamper.