Sunday, April 1, 2012

30 Habits of Highly Effective Poets: Drinking Tea

Many poets write about their obsession with coffee. I, however, am a tea drinker. Not any tea. It has to be good, strong British tea with milk and a little sugar, first thing in the AM.

Where did I acquire this habit? From my mother, who grew up in Nottingham England. Her childhood home was Forest House -- so-named for Sherwood Forest.
Forest House was torn down years ago. My mother's room was next to the train tracks.

I have lovely memories of tea time at my English grandparents' home, The Old Rectory. Visits there were rare (every 18 months or so) and always amazing. Which is why I didn't realize until I was older that my wonderful grandmother wasn't wonderful to all of her grandchildren. We had special status.

To make up for my April Fool's trick this morning, here is a poem of mine with some strong British tea.


Baba Yaga 
by Laura Shovan

What I loved about you, really, was your house.
We traveled the dirt road,
waiting for a glimpse of roof,
the familiar glint of sun on window.
The door, enormous and heavy,
belonged on a church.
Even I, the eldest, could not open it myself.
 
We explored the tiny room on the third floor
where I thought a crazy lady slept,
poked at the old gray parrot
who said your name in Grandpa’s voice
and liked the taste of children’s fingers,
warmed ourselves by the wide iron stove
that glowed charcoal all day long,
waiting, like the fairy tale,
for a plump and curious child.

Mornings, all three of us had tea in your bed.
The covers were filled with feathers.
Without your whalebone corset
you were powdery soft.
There were biscuits to eat.
Even Grandpa was friendly.

How easily we were trapped.
You pinched and prodded the other children,
who wisely kept their distance.
Your crooked pinkie finger
scolds them in their memories:
our grandmother the witch.

We recognize you now,
we who you favored and fooled.
Your back is turned to us
and the old iron stove is burning.


This poem was first published in Paterson Literary Review. It also appears in my chapbook, Mountain, Log, Salt and Stone.

Those of you who know the story of Baba Yaga can guess the other half of my heritage. My father is from a family of European Jews, all of whom had come to U.S. by the early 1930s. Baba Yaga is a folk tale witch. She shares many qualities with the nasty old woman in the story of Hansel and Gretel.

Katya Arnold's book on Baba Yaga
I write out of my heritage, my family story, quite a bit. In a way, that is a writing ritual -- returning to family history as a source for ideas.

6 comments:

Robyn Hood Black said...

Of course, with a name like mine, you had me even before the poem. What a treat to read the poem again, too - so personal and yet connected to that universal Baba Yaga as well.

Author Amok said...

Hi, Robyn. I'm glad you like the poem. We are looking forward to taking the children to the U.K. this summer. They are going to meet some of my Nottingham cousins for the first time and see where their Nana is from.

Robyn Hood Black said...

What a treat! I want to go back one of these days. Give my best to Sherwood Forest....

Mary Lee said...

Habit number one...CHECK.

Can't wait to see the rest!

Susan Taylor Brown said...

Beautiful poem, Laura. I especially loved the line:

Your crooked pinkie finger
scolds them in their memories:

Looking forward to your series this month. I have a love/hate relationship with tea (lifelong coffee drinker who can't drink it anymore.)

Amy Ludwig VanDerwater said...

I love this poem! So much goodness. Now I need to warm my tea (green, jasmine) before reading the other habits. Late but excited! a.