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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

tea & memory: day #9 of National Poetry Month ~

If you’ve read any of this blog, you know I’m nuts about tea. Crazy, obsessive, elitist (and possibly boring) on the topic. Poetry, too.

I have almost as many tea ‘cookbooks’ as favourite poets. There are six tea sets in the china cabinet,  including two hand-painted by my grandmother, who also loved tea sets. That doesn’t include the celadon set my husband brought back from Korea, the antique Persian set he bought me in Saudi Arabia, the hand-thrown pottery set in our wedding stoneware, or various tempered glass ones. Did I mention I love tea?

Elsewhere — in poems, in essays, in letters and journals and who knows where else — I’ve written about learning tea. Long ago, in a galaxy and time far far away… In a desert city, in a box of a trailer, alone w/ the wintry desert shamal and new motherhood, I learned tea. It was my life line. Or rather the other women huddled together for support were my life line. A Brit, a Madrasan (now a Chennaite? ), an Aussie, three Texans, an Okie, a Canadian, a Vermonter… an eclectic group, my tea family.

Some of them already knew tea — the Brit, of course. And the Canadian and the Aussie.  The Queen’s brew has a long,  wide, and mixed history. Here in the US, we drink coffee — proof of our rebellious natures. But no one ever turned to coffee for comfort. And few people write poetry to coffee.

But there are poems to tea, and today’s poem is one of those. It’s new for me — new poets and new poems. I wanted something that married these two great comforts of mine. So here are TWO poems today, both on tea. After all, it’s my birthday!

Here’s Kenny Knight, with ‘Lessons in Tea-Making':

Lessons in Tea-Making

When I first learnt to
Pour tea in Honicknowle

In those dark old days
Before central heating

Closed down open fireplaces
And lights went out in coal mines

And chimpanzees hadn’t yet
Made their debuts on television

And two sugars
Was the national average

And the teapot was the centre
Of the known universe

And the solar system
Wasn’t much on anyone’s mind

And the sun was this yellow
Thing that just warmed the air

And anthropology’s study
Of domestic history hadn’t

Quite reached the evolutionary
Breakthrough of the tea-bag

And the kettle was on
In the kitchen of number

Thirty two Chatsworth Gardens
Where my father after slurping

Another saucer dry would ask
In a smoke-frog voice for

Another cup of microcosm
While outside the universe blazed

Like a hundred towns
On a sky of smooth black lino

And my father with tobacco
Stained fingers would dunk biscuits

And in the process spill tiny drops
Of Ceylon and India

And here’s Jo Shapcott, with ‘Procedure':

Procedure

This tea, this cup of tea, made of leaves,

made of the leaves of herbs and absolute

almond blossom, this tea, is the interpreter

of almond, liquid touchstone which lets us

scent its true taste at last and with a bump

in my case, takes me back to the yellow time

of trouble with bloodtests, and cellular

madness, and my presence required

on the slab for surgery, and all that mess

I don’t want to comb through here because

it seems, honestly, a trifle now that steam

and scent and strength and steep and infusion

say thank you thank you thank you for the then, and now

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