Tea Ceremony

Rosemary Kitchen

We move away
from the shop counter, where knives
clack against cutting boards, cleaving spines
from carp, stripping scales from white flesh
like coin purses being turned inside out,
to the back room, where garlands of garlic
hang up to dry.

On an empty shelf,
he keeps it—a glass pitcher
bound shut with twine
and cheese cloth.
    Across its neck
a mushroom has grown— thick,
like the head of a jellyfish— and floats there
in a bath of black tea: a brew to cure
the liver spot growing on his cheek.

Once, I watched my mother sprawl
across a missionary’s kitchen table, her naked
scalp swathed in scarves, silk, vibrant, the tumor
a globe inside her swollen womb.
Even then, the gesture of empty hands
the incantation faith has made you 
whole, seemed, to me, a game.
Now, as he
fishes out the fungus with tongs,
letting its warm, slimy weight fall
into my open palms, its creases
nip my fingers, the way I imagine
the mouths of minnows would
should I run a hand through the tank
at the store’s front, should I allow myself
to believe in the subtle throbbing
of tissue against skin.


Here a lyrical delicacy, a surprising associative movement, and an equally surprising approach to syntax make for a richly compelling mixture, especially as the poem moves towards its closure, which seems to me enthralling.
—David Wojahn, 2013 Ruth Stone Poetry Prize Judge

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