Jul. 25, 2005

Reject Jell-O

by Lucille Lang Day

MONDAY, 25 JULY, 2005
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Reject Jell-O" by Lucille Lang Day, from Wild One. © Scarlet Tanager Books. Reprinted with permission.

Reject Jell-O

The man I married twice—
at fourteen in Reno, again in Oakland
the month before I turned eighteen—
had a night maintenance job at General Foods.
He mopped the tiled floors and scrubbed
the wheels and teeth of the Jell-O machines.
I see him bending in green light,
a rag in one hand,
a pail of foamy solution at his feet.
He would come home at seven a.m.
with a box of damaged Jell-O packages,
including the day's first run,
routinely rejected, and go to sleep.
I made salad with that reject Jell-O—
lemon, lime, strawberry, orange, peach—
in a kitchen where I could almost touch
opposing walls at the same time
and kept a pie pan under the leaking sink.
We ate hamburgers and Jell-O
almost every night
and when the baby went to sleep,
we loved, snug in the darkness pierced
by passing headlights and a streetlamp's gleam,
listening to the Drifters and the Platters.
Their songs wrapped around me
like coats of fur, I hummed in the long shadows
while the man I married twice
dressed and left for work.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1897, that the novelist Jack London left San Francisco for the Klondike to join the gold rush. He was just 21. A few weeks earlier, a ship had arrived in San Francisco from the Klondike carrying more than a million dollars worth of gold, and London got his step-sister to mortgage her house and lend him the money for the trip.

It was a long, hard trip, a long haul over the famous Chilkoot Pass. And winter came before Jack London could even start looking for gold. He spent that winter in a little fur trader's cabin the size of a tool shed, reading the books he'd brought with him: Dante's Inferno and Milton's Paradise Lost.

By spring, he'd realized that all the good claims had already been made. So instead of looking for gold, he talked to people, and he gathered their stories. He almost died of scurvy on the way home, but he went on to write about his experiences in his book The Call of the Wild, which became one of the most popular books of his time. Jack London said, "I never realized a cent from any properties I had an interest in up [in Alaska]. Still, I have been managing to pan out a living ever since on the strength of that trip."

Today is the anniversary of the day when Bob Dylan went electric at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, to the great consternation of folk music fans.

Actually, Bob Dylan had grown up listening to rock and roll. He loved Elvis. He said once, "When I first heard Elvis's voice, I just knew that I wasn't going to work for anybody and nobody was gonna be my boss. Hearing him for the first time was like busting out of jail."

He played in rock bands in high school, but when he went to college at the University of Minnesota, he fell into the folk scene and started singing songs of Woody Guthrie. He performed wearing blue jeans and a work shirt.

But in 1964, he heard the Beatles and other British bands who played rock and roll the way Dylan remembered hearing it as a kid. He did some rock and roll on his album Bringing It All Back Home in 1965 and came out with his hit song that summer, "Like a Rolling Stone."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
The Writer's Almanac on Facebook

The Writer's Almanac on Twitter

Subscribe to our daily newsletter for poems, prose and literary history every morning
An interview with Jeffrey Harrison at The Writer's Almanac Bookshelf
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show
O, What a Luxury

Although he has edited several anthologies of his favorite poems, O, What a Luxury: Verses Lyrical, Vulgar, Pathetic & Profound forges a new path for Garrison Keillor, as a poet of light verse. Purchase O, What a Luxury »