It was in an essay entitled “A Piece of Chalk” that appeared in his collection Tremendous Trifles (1909):
Once I planned to write a book of poems entirely about the things in my pockets. But I found it would be too long; and the age of the great epics is past.
As I am not a poet, I will attempt to write an essay, or at least a blog post, about the contents of my pockets.
To begin with, I know it is a fashion among the svelte to wear shirts that have no pockets. (If you have ever seen any pictures of me, you know that “svelte” is not ba word that can be used to describe me.) One pulls one’s head through a hole at the top, and the result is a look that signals that one is in all probability dyspeptic. Fortunately, they haven’t attempted to do the same thing with pants. I suppose that if I had some native bearers, I could afford not to worry about he things I have to carry. But I have no native bearers.
Let’s start with the shirt. I prefer a shirt with two pockets. In the left one is an eyeglass case bearing my reading glasses. Shoved up against it is a Parker Executive ballpoint pen. The other usually contains a pill box for my Metformin HCL, Atorvastatin, Vitamin D3, and Oleuropein.
My pants have four pockets. Let’s start with the front left pocket, which contains my wallet. In my right front pocket are the sets of keys I need for the day’s activities: car keys, house keys, and—if I become employed again—my office keys.
In my back pockets are two handkerchiefs. The left back pocket contains a usually clean hanky used for cleaning the smudges off my eyeglasses. The right back pocket contains what Shakespeare would call my snotrag.
Now that usually is not enough for everything I need. If I step out of the house, I need room for a Ziplock® sandwich bag containing my two types of insulin and a supply of nano-needle nibs. Then, too, I go nowhere without books and/or one of my Kindles. Then, too, one must add bus schedules (on general principle, I do not pay exorbitant parking fees), a floor guide to the Los Angeles Central Library, my cellphone (when I allow myself to be so bothered), and a folded-up plastic bag for carrying books, if necessary. For the items in this paragraph, I use a Magellan travel bag which I see I will have to replace soon if I do not wish to be confused with the homeless.
And that is it. I don’t think it would have made for a good poem. Though, if anyone could do it, it would be G.K. Chesterton.