prosetry

A Brief History Of Tea

I used to resent making my father cups of tea. “Why can’t you just make it yourself?” He’d just stare at me until I skulked off to the kitchen, dragging my feet, banging the mug down on the counter, slamming the fridge door. A simple task but apparently asking too much of me.


When I was a teenager, a cup of tea and a spliff was the only way to start the day. Life could not move forward until tea had been consumed. Tea first, life second. Get your priorities straight, girl. Always tea first. Always tea. Always.


My first poem published in print was about a young girl who was addicted to tea and died as a result of her dependence on caffeine mixed with a disgusting amount of sugar. Addiction, death and tea: a portrait of my family. Nobody knew at the time that this morbid poem, written and published when I was 10 years old, was the start of my career writing depressing poetry.


All these years and you still don’t know how I take my tea.


When I was 16 I went to the dark side. Depression and psychosis were killing me from the inside out. Feeling so exhausted from the fight and zombie-like thanks to citalopram, while also knowing that I needed to do every single crazy thing my mind was telling me do, I found myself trying to find energy from any possible source. Crushed caffeine pills mixed in rum and gumming speed wasn’t enough so I decided to start drinking coffee.

I’d always said that I hated the taste of coffee but in truth, I had never tried it. I had a pal who’d dropped out of school and starting working in this failing coffee shop. I’d pop in to see him and down espressos until either my hands were shaking too much or they’d stopped shaking altogether, then rush off to do whatever mad thing my brain told me was imperative to do next. “If you don’t run 8 miles to this specific postbox and kick it with all your might using your left foot, your dad is going to die. Tick tock.”

I still don’t even know if I like the taste, but nowadays coffee seems more vital to my existence than tea. This somehow seems sinful, anti-British, maybe even anti-Dad. Father said that he drank a coffee in Rome in the 90s and it was crazy-expensive. He never drank a coffee again and never understood why I did.


Sometimes, when he was too ill to speak,
he would make a letter T shape
with his hands. That meant, “Tea, please.”


My first suicide attempt. Brother said We need to get her to hospital, I’m calling 999. Mother said Absolutely not, and confiscated the telephone. I was put on the sofa. I remember my head hanging over the edge, upside down, and my left arm lolling with it, my hand near the carpet. My organs were in my mouth. Mother said Drink this tea. I can’t speak I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t keep my eyes open. Mother is ironing and watching Desperate Housewives while I am dying behind her. When I was conscious I could see the cup of tea on the floor by where my hands were hanging. When my eyes rolled back into my head they retained the image of the tea. Dark green mug, white leaves, flecks of gold. I couldn’t move to get it. When I was unconscious for too long, Mother poured cold water on me. Drink your tea, she said. Brother was not allowed in the room. I drifted, in and out, mostly out. The tea went undrunk. Eventually my whole body slipped off the sofa. I came to, drenched, lying on the floor, to the sound of Mother shouting at me and my brother crying in the hallway. I had wasted a valuable cup of tea. I slept for 3 days.


Me + D @ university:
Tetley when our student loans dropped.

Green tea when studying, using the same teabag 3 or 4 times.
With lemon if I’d managed to swipe one from Tesco.
Chamomile when we were depressed or had period pains.
Hot water when we were skint.


We never had coffee at home (too expensive). Running out of tea caused the entire household to fall apart. Mother had black tea. Brother and I had milk and 2 sugars. Father drank several cups in the morning while waiting for the pub to open. We learned to fear the empty PG Tips box. Life simply could not go on without tea. A frantic scrambling for loose change and sending one of the kids running down to Mr Shah’s would follow. Then the parents would get their tea and the order that existed in our household (albeit a very low level of order) would return.

I was glad when father drank tea. It was better than when he drank beer.

I was glad when mother drank tea. It meant that she would take a minute to calm down and wouldn’t be so angry for a while.


Today, I am the queen of tea-making. I remember how everybody takes theirs and make them perfectly to their individual specifications. I like seeing their faces when they take the mug and peer in, nod in approval, take a sip and say, “Corrrrr, that’s a lovely cuppa tea, that is,” and they are simply happy. It’s so British it hurts.


When I began making cups of tea for my father I was about 4.

Too tiny to reach the kitchen counter, let alone the kettle. Had to drag the red plastic step over and climb on it. If there was too much water in the kettle it was too heavy to hold so I’d tip it over into the sink and refill it with just enough for a cup.

Four heaped teaspoons of sugar. PG Tips pyramid bag. Careful, careful with the hot water. Let it brew for the correct amount of time. Add a little milk (blue top). It had to be a certain colour, the tea, a very particular shade of beige. Stir stir stir so that the sugar doesn’t get stuck to the bottom of the mug. That mug. It was huge. You used that mug for over 20 years. I don’t know where it is now but I hope that someone has it.

Careful, careful with dragging the mug over to the edge of the counter. Step off the step, carefully. Two tiny hot hands carrying the mug over to Daddy. “Thank you, princess.” Sometimes a critique. “A little too much milk in this one, babe,” or “Did you put sugar in this or is it all at the bottom?” or if I had spilled a bit on the journey, he’d describe the tea as being “low tide.”


I knew his mind was gone when he wouldn’t drink his tea.


Something awful happens. Make a cup of tea.

Something needs to be sorted out. Let’s all sit down and have a nice cup of tea.

Someone dies. For god’s sake, get that kettle on.

A lovely catch up with an old friend. Tea and biccies.

Bad news. Cuppa char. Good news. Celebratory cuppa.

Big news. Make the tea first then tell us all about it.

Sad news. Sit in silence holding onto your mug of tea for warmth and comfort.

New roommate, new neighbour, new colleague, new boss. Bond over a cup of tea.

Hangover. Drag yourself to the caff for a fry up and a mug of builders tea.

Hungry but dinner is ready in an hour. Have a cheeky cup of tea.

Visiting nan and granddad. Call them when you’re 5 minutes away so they can get the mugs out and the kettle boiled.

Work break. Tea and a quick smoke outside.

In hospital. Complain about the weak tea and get friendly with the nurse so she gives you extra milk and sugar.

Foreign country. Do you have any English tea?

Visiting friends abroad. Bring a box of Twinings Breakfast tea as a gift but drink it all yourself during your stay.

Break-up. How about a lovely cup of tea and a slice of cake?

Freezing cold. A cuppa will sort you out.

Heatwave. I don’t care, get that kettle on.

When in doubt: TEA.


After your abortion I didn’t know what to do
so I just made you a cup of tea and held you
while you cried.


The only words that father learnt in Polish (my mother’s language) were kochana and herbata. “Darling” and “tea.” All he ever needed.


Daddy used to write in my birthday cards,
“I love you more than all the tea in China.”
That’s a lot of tea and a lot of love.


I used to resent making my father cups of tea but now I would love nothing more than to hear him say, “Lal, stick the kettle on and make us a cuppa, would ya?” And I would. Happily. So happily.

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life, prosetry

On The Cusp

No bright light, no tunnel, no montage of childhood memories or “best bits”, no soundtrack, no loved ones, no dead relatives, no angels, no God. Just blood and guts and chemical reactions and la chamade and then             .

A freight train gradually slowing down, the application of the brakes, finally grinding to a total halt after a couple of miles. Careering forward towards that stop with no way to stop the stopping.

No thoughts. Inability to think about anything. Only able to feel your body in its entirety, the weight of it, its structure, how you [have always] live[d] inside of it. Heartbeats and skin and bones and muscle and fat and blood moving. You feel exactly where your organs are housed: they’ve always worked so hard without you asking them to and now they are slowly, slowly shutting down (over 1 minute? 10 hours? 2 days? you will never know and it doesn’t matter because time isn’t matter so it doesn’t die).

No control. You cannot think, so you cannot will your body to fix itself or will it to speed up the process. No cerebral functioning, at all, only corporeal dysfunctioning.

Feeling your body in a way that you have never felt it before. Such heaviness in your limbs. Your spine weighs a tonne. Your muscle melts off of you like ice-cream and then sets around you like concrete. Weight weight weight, the weight of your matter, and gravity keeping you tied down in whatever position you decided was your last, stuck in that way, feeling your body dissolve, feeling yourself falling off your bones. Unable to open your eyes. No thought to even try.

No sound, no background noises, no internal monologue, no voices, just nothingness, a vacuum, a black hole located in your centre, where your sternum ends, right between your floating ribs. No fight, no struggle, just being: you are in your body and it is slowing down, bit by bit, over an incomprehensible period of time, until it stops completely.

The brain does not go last, as we have been led to believe. The brain goes first. You cannot think, you cannot do. You just be until you stop [being]. The heart goes last. Dying is not peaceful or scary or wild or magical or painful. It just is. Like you just are and one day, you won’t be.

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life, poetry, prosetry, Uncategorized

Moving toward light

adult alone anxious black and white

Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

When I am sad, a voice, not unlike my own

chastises the impulse

if it is that, wishing to rise beyond, crush of emotion

when I am sad, I make myself sadder

by listening to those inherited echoes, telling me how I should feel

shutting down the validity, condemning feelings less than

knocking walls already fragile, disqualifying the emotion

when I am sad

I think of your disappointment

how much you wanted me to be

a thing of steel

reflecting only brightness

nothing dull or sorrowful

how I became in irony, almost everything you loathe and detest

I would say I am sorry, for your distress

but I learned instead of words, to be sad

maybe in part, because I saw, that flint in your eyes

nothing else was there

though in truth I was sad, at six years old

watching kids bully each other

knowing then, inequality and inequity

imagining the fight before I had, grown tall enough

hoping The Magic Faraway Tree

was real but knowing if it were

children grown to adults, would cut it down

when I am sad

sometimes it helps to think

love cannot be broken

by sadness or loneliness or grief

love stands as our first flower

even as it no longer exists the scent remains

to save us from disappointment

of so many other things

including each other and our infinite ability to be cruel

I am still the child with the blue rabbit

watching adults lie to each other

and kids emulate and pinch, the very stuffing out of hope

for if there is a Magic Faraway Tree

I think it would not be

for you or thee or me

like all magic things

only reveal itself to those pure hearted enough to know

sadness is manufactured by what we do to each other

with each cruel act it grows

if we let it and if we don’t

then next time I am sad

I will think on other things

like your voice and how

you make my heart quicken, just in your use

of words, the familiar cadence a worm

reaching deep into my heart

moving toward light.

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poetry, prosetry

Inheritance

You left us nothing but your everything
You gave us nothing but your all

no bank account, no savings, just that envelope of drug-money:
enough to pay for a cab to the crematorium, your wicker coffin and a good old fashioned piss-up afterwards

your microwave, your hunting knife, a tin opener, a wooden spoon

over 40 years of poetry in smoke-stained notebooks

a box of photos of girlfriends past, birthdays celebrated, weddings attended, funerals suffered

that ugly glass squirrel statue that I always hated, that you insisted I must keep after you die, so that “whenever you feel sad, you can look at the ugly squirrel and laugh

morphine, temazepam, lorazepam, zopiclone: all the good ones I swiped before mother swept in and threw the rest away (she never saw an opportunity for money-making like we did)

your watch collection (for brother)
your guitars (for brother)
your records, tapes and CDs (for brother)

more notebooks, filled with the profundity of others, in your handwriting

I am angry that you destroyed your journals
but I suppose if I’d read them I would probably have begun to believe
that I didn’t really know you at all
and that would hurt more than any secret stashed in a suitcase

your denim shirt; your PROPER CORNISH jumper; your old fisherman’s smock;
none of which I dare wear, lest your scent disappear from the fibres

an unpaid electricity bill,
12 unsolved crosswords,
half a tin of Amber Leaf,
97 packets of Rizla,
5 lighters (2 working, 2 needing fuel, 1 needing a new flint)

no trust fund
but total trust
and so much fun

your good books, your good looks

the gifts of our gabs
the depression gene
the addictive personality
the grey-hair-in-your-twenties gene
the too-much-of-a-good-thing tendency
the “you’ve got laugh or else you’ll cry” mentality

a beautiful black Ibex horn
which fits perfectly in my grip;
which I use to shut my Velux because I’m too short to reach the lock;
which is solid enough to kill a man if I were to smash it against his skull

an address book with personal numbers for celebrities, royalty, tycoons, sports stars and political bigwigs

manners & morals

your blue Salbutamol inhaler
affectionately named ‘Sally’
that you used 30+ times a day instead of the prescribed 3 times a day
that I use about 3 times a month when I’m having a really bad attack
your voice in my head saying “Breathe, babes, just breathe,” and “It’ll all be over soon”
I fear the day that this inhaler runs out

no property, no vehicles, no investments
no valuable antiques, no precious heirlooms

but you were the valuable antique
and we were your precious heirlooms

passed down a generation
to be passed on to the next

the carefully curated wisdom,
the ferocity of our love,
our soft-boiled eyes,
our way of bearing our bones
to those who get close

the (hi)stories, the DNA, the surname

all of the skills
all of the lessons
all of the laughter
all of the memories

no “assets”

we were your biggest asset
and you left us us:
your chef-d’œuvre,
your magnum opus,
your greatest achievement:

you left us
us.

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life, poetry

Thoughts @ 5 p.m.

[Written 12 days after my dad died]

cigarette
window
matches
snap the first one
drop the second
fire
half-moon
sirens
lungs
orange sunset
another sunset without dad
shard to the left
church to the right
college to the right
black smoke coming from the chimney on the college
smoke from the roof
smoke from the cigarette
smoke from the chimney
smoke from the gas chambers
Auschwitz
Sylvia
“Daddy”
Dad?
“Daddy, Daddy you bastard, I’m through”
no
no no no no no
i don’t want to
i don’t want to be through
i want my dad
where’s my dad?
look over towards hospital
the silver shed of the morgue

once upon a time in the 70s:
dad had a job painting a hospital morgue
they stole lots of drugs from the hospital pharmacy
the ex-cons he worked with stole jewellery
straight off the fingers of the frozen bodies

dad in that morgue
dad in this morgue
dad in a morgue
dad?
dad on a slab
dad in a bag
dad in a bag on a slab
tears
dad?
half-moon
tears
fuck this

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life, poetry, prosetry

Glinting yet unswept

jump

you and I

were never meant to age

or get sick

or fall apart like a moth will when you

touch its wings, rub off the magic

you and I

were supposed sway in the assurance

of that hot gaze we both had

it was as if the world were stopped

on its axil and only we two remained

entwined around the other like long grown ivy

from the first moment it was that way

affixed by some kind of telepathy where

even as the storm attempted to separate

we always came back

like magnets repelled and attracted

will find their centering

when I looked up

you were my first thought

in every aspect of life

I lived with you

to imagine this has shattered like a glass

unable to be mended, leaves behind shards of itself

glinting yet unswept

to prick the foot of unsteady walker

a reminder of what is fractured

what cannot be saved

I never thought it possible, to rinse you from my heart

or that I could truly exist without you

hinging my world

but there are some violences

there are some moments too ruined

and my shame in not knowing earlier

how long you had given me up

that undo even the strongest bond

so now, when I feel alone

I do not find myself yearning for you

when I wish to be touched

it is not you I imagine or want

when I cry over us

it is not with a full heart

or even bitterness

but something cold and twisted

that cannot quite remember feeling

it has done the unimaginable

and stopped calling out for you

(One Promise

when you had spent

eight life times and

nine nights

ten turns of moon

one promise

convincing me I was

yours

to want to throw myself

off the bridge we often walked

when your eyes told me

you had given up

was it presumptuous

when you had spent

all my life and half of yours

teaching me love

and its poetry

only to decide when something died

and kill it

headless and bleeding

there in the street

where pointing

people gaped and wondered

who is that girl

climbing the rail?

where is she going?

there she falls)

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