Teapots abound in our house:
some antique; others, found-
some well-loved, others yet unused,
ranked in china battalions:
at rest, but someday ready to vanquish
thirst, sore throats, social droughts.
Quiet now: frozen soldiers, spellbound.
Passing by, I wonder-what kiss
would wake a dreaming castle's keep?
What could end an oblivious sleep?
(On the watch, my hardwood paces
whisper, Don't disturb your father…
furtively, and delicate.)
But I can go home again,
once a certain funereal emptiness
has cleansed these rooms.
I can go to bed, sniffling
for pity, sometimes in play.
On such sick days
you embarrass me with mommy
servitude…but also soothe.
Let the ceremony begin:
the rattan breakfast tray bearing
the brace of blue Equal packets,
the Sagittarius mug,
the wafer-thin toast.
Lift the cupola of lid,
loose the searing steam,
and bow the generous spout:
Your hand is poised to pour,
steadier than mine. I always slop, scald,
scream when I should be quiet,
if I know what's good for me.
Chalice offered, you wait
for the first sacramental sip.
Once the teapot crouched on the burner,
on the front lines, restraining
the foam and froth battling
to the boil inside,
bruised-black and blue-patterned.
Even so, the Delft Chinaman always
serene on his sampan
despite crescendo shrieks of steam.
Remember: once I reached to break the scream,
reached for the awful scald lashing out to blister and flay
as it ricocheted, clanking across linoleum.
But it didn't break. Didn't break.
And you didn't reproach
-"Just as long as you're all right"-
as you knelt to soak up someone else's mess
with stained and ragged towels.
Hold this hot globe in your hands.
Feel this liquid fire, coiled and quiet now,
these convex complexities of heft and shape.
These are things I will never know or understand-
How rare and boiling springs
once were harnessed inside so small a space.
How simmering baths always waited on snow days,
never failing to heal bruises and black eyes.
How warm tides renewed their wash,
day after oppressive day-
I have photographs of sugar bowl beaches
and you, teaching me to not fear the water,
else I never would have seen the angelfish,
who float, filmy Red Diamonds in an amber sea,
in the blue belly between your hands,
trailing name-tag tails behind them.
I remember how the teapot flew across the room,
a vehement gull. And though he'd
pitched on scholarship in college
(taught me to throw "less like a girl")
it only crushed a spiderweb hollow
in the Easter egg shell of the wall.
A flake fell: the period ending a sentence.
But the teapot did not break. Did not break.
One curve blunted; the rest, whole.
You cannot threaten a thing tempered by fire,
designed shatterproof, lifetime guaranteed.
With your fingers you fish out effete bags,
barren now, and spent. One last squeeze:
a surprising scarlet gush, and then, nothing.
(I think of the way you signed divorce papers
with a flourish, the violent dotting of an i.)
You toss away the dross as if it did not even matter now.
Light strikes that one kettle flatness
as you wipe away both the condensation
and one stray curl rebelling over your brow,
over the welt that still aches sometimes.
Originally written fall 1999.