A Breakfast for Barbarians

my friends, my sweet barbarians,

there is that hunger which is not for food —

but an eye at the navel turns the appetite


with visions of some fabulous sandwich,

the brain’s golden breakfast

                                        eaten with beasts

                                        with books on plates


let us make an anthology of recipes,

let us edit for breakfast

our most unspeakable appetites —

let us pool spoons, knives

and all cutlery in a cosmic cuisine,

let us answer hunger

with boiled chimera

and apocalyptic tea,

an arcane salad of spiced bibles,

tossed dictionaries —

                                        (O my barbarians

                                        we will consume our mysteries)


and can we, can we slake the gaping eye of our desires?

we will sit around our hewn wood table

until our hair is long and our eyes are feeble,

eating, my people, O my insatiates,

eating until we are no more able

to jack up the jaws any longer —


to no more complain of the soul’s vulgar cavities,

to gaze at each other over the rust-heap of cutlery,

drinking a coffee that takes an eternity —

till, bursting, bleary,

we laugh, barbarians, and rock the universe —

and exclaim to each other over the table

over the table of bones and scrap metal

over the gigantic junk-heaped table:


 by God that was a meal

Gwendolyn MacEwen, “A Breakfast for Barbarians” from Magic Animals: Selected Poems Old and New. Copyright © 1974 by David MacKinnon. Reprinted by permission of David MacKinnon.

Source: The New Oxford Book of Canadian Verse (Oxford University Press, 1983).