Most of her sentences begin with, “I used to.” She used to be / to go / to enjoy / to do / to love x y and z. Now she dwells, angry and bitter, writing furious lists of all of the things that The Thief has stolen from her. She used to enjoy painting. She used to dance in crowds. She used to wear dresses. She used to be smart. She used to do sports. She used to like the sunshine. She used to have real friends. She used to be pretty. She used to travel. She used to enjoy sex. She used to speak several languages. She used to throw parties. She used to make people laugh. She used to be skinny. She used to be popular. She used to be able to do anything. She used to be a daughter, a sister, a niece, a granddaughter. She used to be brilliant. She used to trust people. She cannot get over Her [old] [true] [real] Self; she misses Her and grieves for Her. The person she is now is not a person, rather a half-human living a half-life. But The Thief cannot be caught nor punished. Already locked up in the prison of her mind, The Thief paces day and night, making her brain ache while waiting for an opportunity to strike, destroying her dreams before they can be realised, converting her hopes into fears, stealing her life one memory, one chance, one possibility at a time. The punisher cannot be punished. You can’t hang the hangman. The Thief will only leave when there’s nothing left to steal. The Thief will leave soon.
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.
Last night I scalded myself Mama and as the boiling water ran down my arm
I saw you through the pain and you were smiling and everything was wrong
how you are alive and yet gone, how you exist and yet don’t, how I was never right
and somehow always mistaken
If I don’t come from you then who? My mitochondrial existence and all the women before us
seem to pass into memory and then detached, by our severing
every day I wake and I think of you and then I remember
you’re not thinking of me
What tenderized my heart so? Pounding it until it cried out
I know it’s futile and still I yearn
What compelled it to continue beating even after the obvious?
I loathe that about myself and I love that about myself
I am like a ship in a bottle, you cannot figure out how I came to be
full and whole, encased in glass and yet
I am neither full nor whole, but hungry and drowning
a featherweight, a word, something you created and then said
no you can take it back, I don’t want it any more
(I never did / I pretended / it was the mask of a mask in a mask)
and so I went far and nowhere
near and not close
wondering what will come first? The last loss of you, or the first diminishment of
my eternal want?
Who am I kidding? With endings there remain
more scabs to pick off, prayerful knees and bowed heads
no amount could achieve
forgiveness or whatever it is I need to be to
change everything that cannot be changed
so I watch myself and you
I watch nothing and no one
empty their expressionless pockets into water
watch the colors of us turn dark and indistinguishable
as if we’d never been and I am not sure
where or who I am without you
like a glass blower who stands on the quayside
the boats will come today
marking the horizon with their
Image by Christine Renney
It happened suddenly and without fanfare. Ben looked down at his hands and they were invisible. There had been no warning signs yet he knew instantly he was not going to be able to control this. His invisibility was not something he wilfully conjured, he could not bend and shape it to suit his own needs. It was not something he could switch on and off. No, this was simply how it was going to be.
Ben began to panic and was very aware of this, of the fact that he was panicking and that he was flailing uncontrollably. Ben looked down at his feet, or more accurately his shoes. Reaching with his right hand he grabbed hold of his left wrist and there it was, there he was.
Ben heaved a very audible sigh and he began to panic just a little less and he managed to calm the flailing. But the others on the street had already noticed him and they had stopped. They were watching, staring at him, at his absence and at his clothes, the clothes that held his shape and form. Ben kicked off his trainers and then stripped away the rest of it; jeans and a t-shirt, socks and under-shorts. He threw them all down onto the pavement and he began to run.
Don’t say / that word
case we defame / or endanger
this moment / and the next
cresting night waves against recumbent shore
your arms molded from sand rise and fall
to my perpetuate weave
and we are
like flowers awaiting sufficient light
to open fully
a miracle each time the pallet of
senses born over with each song
held in my chest like women who wet their lips with the sore
chaff of flax before threading it into life
we make our reality
each elbow gracing air with untrained response
ballerinas finding satin undercoat
if leaves covered us, they’d say
Fall never ran out of color
your diminishing form as you lean away
gasping for air and back again into
there are only circles, nothing is
straight lined nor willing to beg for its supper
we two have earned our share of peace
many years of violence
the thrum and rub of pain is an ever
present crystal, hung against day
a kaleidoscope of far away places
we both realized that ache lying
just one layer beneath fevered skin
for you are
this enchanted place within me
a mirror of sea water washing over
the hardness I tried to place in armor
in lieu of a heart
your beneficence and the
arch of your neck bent in sleep
a field mouse of russet and dream
I would gather everything holy
pour the past down trilling drain
vanish with you into wings of night
two stars indivisible, our energy tracing
electric center of the other
this is dying and this is living
neither of us can mouth the enchantment
no longer necessary to verbalize motion
as birds gather their passage to dusk
swooping like dancers ushered from stage
and after everyone is gone
our love shall endure
a hidden thing
I don’t have your poise
or formidable intelligence
I haven’t inherited your coloring
or the savagery with which
you tear people out of your life
I used to believe I was weak
because I felt so much and could not
turn away in anger
a trait much prized and perfected
no, I was
clumsy enough to be feeling
and try as I may, the ice
did not stay in my veins
just as resentment doesn’t hang on me
an internal coat
nor grudges devour
While i am not always happy
I do not fashion that unhappiness
to break and grind, the bones of others
I was told so many times
I was nothing more than a dumb beast
trying in vain
but those people were proven wrong
for this dumb beast
accomplished everything she attempted
perhaps just to prove them wrong.
It is my road
the one alone
and I ache for you when it rains
like the six year old
listening for the sound of your key in the door.
I cannot expunge the pain, I carry it, inherited, a scar of many faces
you were a pattern I mimicked, knowing nothing else
maybe now you are released from your bonds and I from mine
we will be free to make our own new lines
though if I could choose, I would return
to the feeling of loving you, within your murmur
for yours were the first words I heard
curled in a c within your body.
You can cut me out and there I gasp
but I am tied to you, as the sun will
pay her travail and always love
climbing out of what we always knew
to lay wreaths of crimson in homage
to spilt milk
My heart is shattered
yet still continues to beat
even as I trample
over these shards around my feet
I feel nothing
nothing but peace
nothing but peace
in every single broken piece
* 5 days After Dad died.