Tea Cosy from Kashmir i.m. Agha Shahid Ali

by Peggy O’Brien

January.  It’s been a year.
You must be almost cosy
Under your cold comforter.

That’s, of course, just silly
Poetry.  Your body shivers
Without the fire of your soul.

And that’s nothing more
Than the leftover scraps of nursery
Fare from catechism class.

I don’t know what or where
You are.  I do know the out
Landish person you were

Comes back on the dot of four
Each day, since I observe
The secular rite of tea.

Bring the water to a rolling
Boil, scald the pot, add
The leaves and hot water,

Leave them steep under
Their soft cover like an egg
In ash for a spell, then pour.

Observing the decorum of the table
We never forked over man sized
Portions of love and terror.

We engaged in bite sized small talk,
Cucumber sandwich chat,
Fat sausage rolls of gossip.

We weren’t precisely friends.
I was one of scores
Who adored your divine, little ways,

How you cast your bread upon
The waters, always throwing
Parties for no earthly reason

Other than so and so, what’s
Her name, was passing through.
You’d go out to shop for food

And invite whomever you met:
The lame, the maimed, the blind,
The cute.  When so and so

Didn’t show, you couldn’t dis
Invite the nameless multitude,
No more than death in a wink

Can blink away a life
Lived wide eyed, each fantastic
Minute.  The party must go on.

Wherever you were, it was loaves
And fishes.  Lavish Kashmir
In frugal Massachusetts.

To you I was a woman
With an Irish past, who could talk
About those doughty nuns

From Mayo and Roscommon,
Charged with the sacred duty
Of starving the budding hedonist

In you on the thin gruel
Of an ascetic Heaven, visions
Of gulls shrieking in Celtic Hell.

Over Assam and Earl Grey
I’d be held in the imperial sway
Of your captivating spirit,

Dispensing even mild
Criticism with a twist of wit
Or creamy smile and sugar.

“Darling,” I can almost hear
You say, “Unlike your body
Your tea, or ‘tay,’ as the Irish

Charmingly put it, simply
Isn’t hot enough.  Let
Shahid help you out.”

Sure enough, the next time
You came back (You always
Did return) from what

For simplicity you called home,
You brought for me alone
A sinfully plush tea cosy.

This winter has been bitter;
But my tea is hot, and it warms
My cup daily as I spirit

Myself back or forward,
As the case may be, looking
Hard at that present you gave me,

The complexity of crewel
Work, each twist the winding
Path on which you’re climbing

Up and up through deep,
Satiating color peacock, pine,
The ruby lips of that consummate

Couplet on the tip of your tongue,
As you approach the blazing
Snowfield near the summit.