waitress poems

Tuesday, April 26, 2005


All she wanted was a cup of tea made
just the way she liked it: neither weak,
nor steeped to bitter black on the cold stove...
A cup of tea she would have fixed herself
if she were able,
A cup like the one she made every afternoon,
brewing it in the last of her wedding china,
a small and delicate cup,
festooned with a single yellow rose.
Too late she realized this was the best hour
of her day: the hour when
she huddled over her steaming cup
and worked on her scrapbooks, clipping bits
from Life or the Saturday Evening Post,
and pasting them beside
the photographs and exotic souvenirs
her sons sent from the front.

If only she had understood
what happiness was--
sipping on the perfect cup of tea
neither syrupy nor bland with too much milk,
perhaps nibbling a biscuit from a plate,
as she kept watch for the postman
whose step crunched the walkway
at precisely three--the possibility
of a letter pulling her to the window
with the lightness of a girl.
That such letters were terse and rare
only increased their price.
Folding and unfolding the wispy sheets, she read them
until she felt the texture of the words,
the way she had once felt the boys’ skin
pressing into hers
when they were small and needy.

But in the end, she was reduced to this--
stranded in her grey bed and crying
for a simple cup of tea
like the children once cried for milk.
The sons who came home were strangers .
Distracted by money and drink
and memories they could tell to no one--
they rushed in,
smelling of cold air and salt and young women
with flushed faces, cellophane bright mouths.
Always in a hurry,
they promised to fix her tea,
but forgot to light the kettle
or left it cooling on the stove,
as a succession of doors
slammed behind them.

How could she have known that
throughout her long vigil,
she was the one who was in danger?
That sipping her tea, arranging the scrapbooks
until they told the story precisely,
she was the one who had been marked out,
betrayed, the cells of her body
embarking on their own high drama?

And now, decades too late,
we come loping up her walkway;
we push past the heavy gate, the door
with its blistered paint, its faded number.
Separated by nothing but the perversity of time,
we climb the stairs to her room and
pull back the grey sheets,
our mouths full of her name: Mary.
Retracing the arc of an ordinary life,
we stand at the foot of the stairs,
as if we still expect her to appear
in her thin nightgown, a little weak,
but pleased to see us,
dying for a cup of tea

Come to the kitchen, Mary, come!
Together we will sit at the table and watch
the street where your heart lifted
at the sight of the mailman.
Together we will keep watch.
You can show us your scrap books,
the letters folded in thin blue packets,
a war made tractable by your hand.
Though surely late, we’re here to read
the story no one wanted; we’ve come
to bring you the perfect cup of tea,
one that is neither too weak,
nor steeped to bitter black on the cold stove...


  • Absolutely brilliant! I like this poem a lot, and have read it several times.

    By Blogger Anna Piutti, at 8:42 AM  

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