Over poker, cup by cup, you taught me
about tea. You sent me
to T Salon and Harney's, Whittard's,
to Assam and Yunnan and Ceylon teas,
touring Asia from the breakfast table.
I still drink coffee sometimes, away from home,
faced with coffee or bagged fannings,
but tea for me, drink of my ancestors,
stuck in Russia all those centuries
with lump sugar or jam. Lemon,
when they could get it. In a cabinet
upstairs I've got the tea glasses and holders,
For years I tried to find
the right mug for my father's tea, not knowing
that his wartime British airbase cup had been
a plain half-pint, elaborated by nostalgia
into something rare, impossible to locate
in reality. Swee-Touch-Nee bags blended
the best and worst of his times, the war
against Hitler and the other against his father.
A history of tea, of Chinese emperors
and British colonies and perfect mugs and pots,
which you helped me rejoin.
I would have got there anyway— less caffeine,
more ritual, another point of difference
between the common world and me—
but I might be buying teabags still.
Now, exiled in a land where "tea" means iced
suffused with simple syrup, I cleave
to teapot and loose leaves, to boiling water,
to the cup of friendship and memory.