Tuesday, September 9, 2014

part of a haiku

At the Tea Garden

by Margaret Hasse

My friend and I mull over the teas
displayed in square jars
with beveled glass labeled by type.
Each name seems part of a haiku:
"After the Snow Sprouting." "Moon Palace."
"Mist Over the Gorges."
I'm drawn to green teas
with unoxidized leaves that don't wither,
hold their grassy fragrance
like willow under snow in winter.

The proprietor offers real china for the Chinese tea.
Animal bones, fine ground, give whiteness,
translucency and strength
to the porcelain that appears delicate,
resists chipping.
The rim of the cup is warm and thin.

My friend's lips are plush: her lovely
mouth opens to give advice I ask for.
We talk about memory of threshold events,
like a first kiss or a poem published.
She can't remember...

I tell her about my brother-in-law's
chemotherapy—his third bout of cancer.
He wants his family to put a pinch
of his ashes in things he liked:
his banjo, the top drawer of his desk, the garden.

I wouldn't mind becoming part
of a set of bone china that serves tea
in a cozy teahouse smelling of incense,
cinnamon, musk, and carved teak.
I'd like to be brought to a small table,
sit between friends' quiet words,
held in hands so close that breath
on the surface of warm drink
makes mist rise over their faces.

{source: Writer's Almanac}

- from the book, Earth's Appetite

I like how the Hasse poem begins with these very poetic names of tea and a description of the grassy fragrance of green tea, but then gets quietly grittier. The bones ground into bone china. And then her friend, who forgets, followed by the struggle of her brother-in-law. She doesn't need to say what his chances are but only that it's his third bout of cancer. When she mentions his ashes, a pinch of them, I think of loose tea, taking a large pinch of tea for my cup. 

In the last stanza, we are brought back to the tea house, its lovely fragrances. She imagines part of her living on in a bone china tea cup. And if not literally, perhaps a nice place to imagine our spirits ending up. In a teahouse, with friends, holding on, being refreshed, saying things about who they are and where they've been, and what they remember and don't remember.

What I admire about the poem is that on the surface it seems light - two women meet in a tea shop. But the big themes roll in, life and death. We end up thinking about how we live, about the nature of friendship, about those things we love, the precariousness of life, and of memory. 

And maybe we're always breathing each other in, like the steam from a fresh cup of tea. The fragrance of those people who have meant something to us and are now absent, for whatever reason, still permeates. 


  1. Your images of steaming tea are mesmerizing...and your thoughts rising from the poem couldn't be more perfect, especially today.

    I would love to be a piece of china, too, I think, always washed by careful hands lost in thought or the cautious jostling of family. I'd probably end up in Bilbo Baggins' house with the rambunctious dwarves...

    1. Thanks, lovely Barb! Yes, I the tea shop scenario sounds lovely as a place to come back to, but with my luck it would be somewhere less savoury.

  2. The sensitivity/ability of finding grace /rhythm in not extra ordinary/ simple things is so precious. The tea poem is so fresh and gentle. Thanks for finding and sharing !


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...