Erika Coetzee

The breakfast of imperfection

No-one knew who had brought the forbidden cereal into the farmhouse. But there it stood in the morning, on the sideboard next to the organic muesli, like a shameless hussy. The cereal seemed unreasonably proud that it contained a mystery prize. An ugly cartoon monkey, swinging from a tree frond on the front of the box, speech-bubbled this exciting news.

The residential workshop of the Poets for Serenity was a silent retreat, so no-one could exclaim and question the presence of the cereal. There were many disapproving frowns, but they were too late to stop Irma, the newest member, who was unaware of the conventions, from opening the box and peering inside. Under the disconcerted gaze of her silent companions, she poured herself an ample bowl of Swamp Nuggets. The soya milk swirled around the multi-coloured cereal like a decomposing rainbow.

Irma unwittingly shrieked with joy when she saw the mystery prize floating in her bowl, in a cellophane pouch. She opened it immediately: it was a plastic whistle on a bright nylon string. She placed the neon whistle between her eager lips, and blew as hard as she could. The sound that followed wasn’t like any other whistle her quiet fellow poets had ever heard. Instead, the tawdry prize from the cereal box let out a screech of unadulterated imperfection.

When Irma was thrown out of the silent workshop of the Poets for Serenity, she took the cereal with her. She put the whistle around her neck, and blew it as she reversed out the farmhouse driveway. The only poem she had managed to write during her stay went like this:

is so quiet
it’s hardly
even there

Irma didn’t like it at all. But she chewed it over as she drove back to the city.

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