The Taste of Tea
2012 String Poet Prize Honorable Mention
The amber brew stained his skin,
from face and neck to arms and legs,
from whites of eyes to nails of fingers and toes.
It was as if all the tea he drank
through all the years
had flooded his body, displaced his blood.
Momma clapped her hands over her ears
when doctors spoke, she thrust me
in their direction.
The surgeon said, take your brother home,
he’s sand in a minute glass.
Momma folded like a fan fallen
across the couch.
Leaving babies and husband,
I brushed his yellowed teeth,
bathed him into ease, parted his legs,
cleansed, soothed, tried to diaper his
twenty nine years.
Sipping tea with me,
Dr. Keriensky, a sugar lump
between his teeth, said we can add
maybe two days or let him go now.
The tea turned bitter.
I looked at momma rigid
on the couch, and poppa, sobbing,
holding her hand.
I turned…my voice cracked,
It’s over sixty years
and I still feel the weight and lament
the power bestowed upon me.
You light the logs in the fireplace
the fiery crackle turns newspapers into ash roses
Burning leaves, autumn’s bittersweet scent
clings to our clothes from the trail we just hiked.
Home now, we stand close to the leaping flames,
enjoy the hiss and spit of wood as it succumbs
to fire while we massage our hands.
Then you take the wrist of my sweater
and pull it off, shaking the sleeves,
freeing the burrs, the hoary hawkweed,
and my beloved puff dandelions.
You shake the sleeves hard
as if it is your last act
as if there is a bad seed in them
as if you know something I don’t
and have to save me.
If I put that old sweater back on
if I followed our trail in the woods
if I lit the logs in the fireplace
could you come and take my sweater off again
could you cross that uncrossable border
could you row across the Styx with its demons
and come back to me?