Monday, April 25, 2022

Poet Kim Dower Getting Crotchety Over Milk—National Poetry Month 2022

Note the milk option choices at this school lunch table.  Food fight in five minutes. 

Nothing brings out the grumpy in aging boomers like me than comparing our childhoods with kids today.  Of course, we notoriously grouse about them spending all their time on their phones and devices instead of interrelating or playing outside.  But of course, they have never been allowed to be the free range kids like us who could roam our neighborhoods and towns totally unsupervised, play happily on bone-breaking playgrounds, carry knives and even firearms, and bounce around in the back of pick-up trucks.  Waves kidnapping panics and scolding never-let-a-child-take-a-risk nags have wiped that all away.  Now kids can’t play in their own yards without a protective, hovering adult, wear all sorts of safety equipment, and must be protected from even the most remote health risk.  See? Don’t get me started!

And it’s not just us geezers.  I have seen Facebook posts from Gen Xers who spent their childhood in the ‘90s lamenting the lost freedoms of their youth at shopping malls and endless telephone calls.

One thing that gets us going is school lunch.  Attempts to make hot lunches more nutritious have been going on for decades now with mixed success.  As an elementary school custodian one of my jobs was to supervise the garbage cans in the cafeteria.  I watched full trays being dumped uneaten with good-for-you salads and vegetable medflies.  Instead, the kids scarfed down the slab of greasy cheese pizza they were allowed once a week and the occasional rubbery hot dog or over-cooked burger patty on a stale bun.

I was also tasked with physically handing a milk carton to each child in the hot meal line whether they wanted one or not.  They could choose a 2% white milk or a 1% chocolate.  About three quarters of them took the chocolate.  Many of the white milk cartons were dumped un-opened.

I understand there is a new push to ban chocolate milk in Federally subsidized lunch programs as part of the battle with childhood obesity.  Like so many well-meaning programs it targets the poor who rely on free lunches while better off parents pack lunches for their kids with stuff they will actually eat.

Kim Dower.  Interesting writing equipment choice and matching bracelet. 

Poet Kim Dower weighed in on the topic.  She was born and raised in New York City and earned a BFA from Emerson College, where she has also taught creative writing. She is the author of four collections of poetry from Red Hen PressAir Kissing on Mars in 2010; Slice of Moon in 2013, nominated for a Pushcart Prize; Last Train to the Missing Planet in 2016; and Sunbathing on Tyrone Power’s Grave in 2019, which won the IPPY Award for best poetry book of the year. Dower’s poems have been featured on Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac where I discovered this poem and Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry, as well as in many journals, magazines, and anthologies. She was Poet Laureate of West Hollywood from 2016 to 2018 and teaches at Antioch University.

They’re Taking Chocolate Milk Off the Menu

They’re Taking Chocolate Milk Off the Menu,


and that’s only the beginning.

I hear other junk food is at risk:

brownies, pastries, name it,

they’re removing it, the only chance

fifth graders have at happiness.

The only thing I looked forward to

was chocolate milk, especially after

getting yelled at by Miss Paniotoo.

I once poured a carton over her “in”

box, watched the ink bleed down

the equation-filled pages, blurring

the names of my classmates,

never told anyone, not even Donna Nagy,

and now they’re taking it off the menu.

What will our kids be forced to do?

Will they devour each other?

Eat one another's faces, run across

the handball court sword fighting

with dry straws, wasted with desire?

Word just in they’re even removing

strawberry milk. We never had that.

I’m sure it didn’t smell like the chocolate:

a little sour like yesterday’s dessert.

We had to drink it before it turned,

when it was still cold enough

that even our mittens couldn’t protect us.


Kim Dower

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