Stronger than coffee,
the memory of the mandarin
segments the air with tang.
Smell is better than taste
(no pips to spit and
punctuate the saucer…)
Orange air flips a finger
as I sip staid warm brown.
Perhaps I should write a book of poems entirely set in a café, called First World Beverages or somesuch. I just wrote a prose piece, soon to be published, about how annoyed I get with poetry that seems to reject all the world except for the poet and his or her feelings, as if feelings have no connection to the society in which they are felt. Mmm, I must order another coffee and have a think about that…That is my world, I suppose, but there is the occasional idea as well, floating around like the smell of mandarins. (They are healthier than madeleines, too.)
I do quite like the pips as ellipses though, and the hint of concrete poetry as the brackets form a saucer. Poésie porcèlaine sounds so much nicer than concrète, don’t you agree?
I must contact the Trademarks Office.
Lastly, my pocket book Paths Into Inner Canberra (Ginninderra Press) is now being stocked by Book Lore in Wattle Street, Lyneham (that’s in Canberra). It is on the front counter, so go in and buy one for $4. Keep this deserving woman in coffee!
Book Lore is a fantastic second-hand bookstore, located between two cafés. In one of these establishments, a poem about mandarins and coffee was written, just today. The photo in the helmet was taken outside the second of these places, by a Mr G. Dunn, after wine was had, and is one of several in the wee pamphlet. The pocket book can also be ordered on the publisher’s site using Paypal. (I am number 3, she said, mysteriously.)
For one doesn’t live on coffee alone, and even mandarins may fade.
February 25, 2014
Umbrellas cup us
in upside down khaki
we sip browner rain
That photograph is of the view of and from Tilley’s, which is less than a five minute walk from my house. When not trapped in the spider’s web of editing, I fly down and write there.
Here, for example, is a draft of this very poem, written at Tilley’s:
I had never thought before I started writing how the ‘U’ at the beginning of umbrella looks like an umbrella blown inside out. Small step from there to coffee cup, really. (And yes, I realise that those umbrellas are not khaki! Also that ‘in upside down’ is a little clumsy. But it reminds me of a blown umbrella, somehow.)
I am longing to be back with my writing routine, away from the exigencies of editing poets’ biographical notes for The Stars Like Sand. I am not really given to minimalism in poetry, and want the time to sprawl over several stanzas. I am sure the my fellow editor Tim Jones feels the same way in regard to wanting more writing time, although he seems to be involved in a myriad of other activities as well.
For me at the moment it’s edit, gym, drink.
Interspersed with the occasional coffee.
February 12, 2013
(working at Tilley’s)
Illumination of each face
through framing screen
everyone a Botticelli
Tilley’s of Lyneham is a restaurant/bar/café which is usually quite dark, even during the brightest day. I have a coffee there every day. One day, working on something poetic, I looked up, and saw a vision. Angels typing. Squads of them. All given a brightness once associated with spiritual illumination.
It was quietly beautiful.
This dark feather was dropped by the woman above, who has lost her computer. Click it and fly to New Zealand, for further (and probably longer) poetry.
January 21, 2013
The tea-lady’s dream, 1970
No-one wanted tea. I felt my stockings
thickening, darkening. Varicose veins
still wrote Chinese messages,
but sudden trousers held the blue.
My twisted wrist ached, and a warm smell
better than shortbread, browner than treacle
wrapped me in blankets of singing air.
New words jingled in my pocketed ears.
Foreign coins: crema, doppio, arabica,
even mugaccino. They sipped and said
You’re the city’s best barista.
I strained confusion to comprehend.
No-one wanted any tea.
Now somewhere in the records of the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there will be an interesting moment discoverable; the exact year in which coffee outsold tea for the first time in this fair brown land. I suspect it was sometime in the early 1980s, but I am too lazy to investigate.
Certainly, tea was the thing in the nineteenth century. The iconic swagman was waiting ’til his billy boiled, not until his macchiato expressed itself. But somehow, now, we have moved from tea being the mainstay of most of the population, to coffee.
Ponder the changes to our land
with a latte in your hand…
I briefly worked at The University of Melbourne serving tea to students at the same time I was also employed as a tutor. (Not at exactly the same hours of the day, though. ‘Would you like sugar with your Kafka?’ was never asked. By me, anyway.) That was back in the 1890s, before Federation. Then, when I started at a very traditional Commonwealth Department in Canberra in the early years of last century, there was still a tea lady who pushed a trolley around. Incroyable.
Now the very idea of an electric kettle being shifted down the corridors of power to make tea (and yes, horrible coffee) by a woman seems awfully steampunk…or should that be steamplunk?
Of course, tea has made a comeback, but as a more specialist beverage, rather than as the drink that powered a nation.
I wonder how much tea they still drink in New Zealand? For the first time in 2013, click this feather and read the poems by other Tuesday Poets, most of whom reside in New Zealand, which, interestingly and surprisingly, is defined as a State of Australia in our Constitution, just in case they ever decide to join in the slightly bigger tea-party over the water.*
(Australia Day is on January 26th, a date of mindless celebration for some, and mourning for others, and of quieter celebration with a spoonful of thought for yet a third group. I think knowledge of that forthcoming anniversary has seeped into this profound analysis of Australian history, incidentally. A year ago, I was also writing about tea, just before the last Straya Day.)
* It occurs to me that some people may not believe me, so here’s the actual definition section from the Constitution:
COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA CONSTITUTION ACT – CLAUSE 6
“The Commonwealth” shall mean the Commonwealth of Australia as established under this Act.
“The States” shall mean such of the colonies of New South Wales, New Zealand, Queensland, Tasmania, Victoria, Western Australia, and South Australia, including the northern territory of South Australia, as for the time being are parts of the Commonwealth, and such colonies or territories as may be admitted into or established by the Commonwealth as States; and each of such parts of the Commonwealth shall be called a State .
“Original States” shall mean such States as are parts of the Commonwealth at its establishment.
Now you’ve had coffee, poetry and law. Pretty good value, if you ask me…
January 16, 2012
I sit with friends outside the café, cup in hand, and fix the world’s problems. I am the cappuccino kid, frothing with anger. I am the peppermint tea with honey, busybeeing everywhere.
I start to collect china as others gather books. My coffee cups speak volumes. I have a small expresso cup, decorated with Aboriginal designs. Is this how I visualise Aboriginal issues? A storm in a coffee cup, a far-off cyclone in Darwin? A Town Called Redfern, where blood has stained the concrete, as there isn’t much wattle around? I sip, and cradle the fragile, storming cup, enjoying my bitter short black. My frown replicates the lines on the cup, as does my smile.
I have a larger, more solid cup which boasts a kangaroo and emu rampant, and the words “Commonwealth Parliament”, proud as any bumper sticker. This capacious cup and saucer was Made in England. It says so on the base. This is a cup for Indian tea, a cup for colonial sipping. I wear a long white dress, a hat to shade my skin and I practise swooning. The cup, however well made, seems to be cracking around the sides, and a small cleft runs from the word Made past the emu. Surely my firm cup will not break, my crest shatter? I delicately place the cup back on the saucer, and the fault-line is hidden.
I have an old cup which says “Buy Nicaraguan Coffee”. Now that things have changed again south of the biggest border, which coffee should I buy? Perhaps the one that tastes the best. A favourite cup of mine is the one that states “Freedom for Women: Women for Freedom”. The tea-lady pours her liquid into this cup, but somehow she doesn’t look particularly free. Her tea makes me insatiable, and the phrase “dry as a witch’s tit” is conjured up from the steam, cloyingly.
But who would smash a cup? They are useful. They are decorative. I stroke my china pets, these devices for drawing boundaries between air, liquid and table. My extrovert cups hold in our conversation, delineate the possible from the flowing surge of ideas. We sit, cups in hand, painting new worlds like flowers on porcelain. I put out my little finger to hook the fishy thoughts which fly from the cup, through the air, challenging our demarcations.
This work (prose-poem? creative non-fiction?) was written way back in the Old Days of 1993, and published in Blast magazine. This brings back so many memories, not least of one of the friends mentioned in the first paragraph, Lindsay Croft, a young Aboriginal man killed in a car accident in the United States while visiting Native American reservations, about a year after I wrote this piece. This gives the work a far more bitter taste, for me, than it would otherwise have.
For excellent poetry fixes, go to the Tuesday poem site. They’re be everything from expresso to latte, I can assure you.