Aug. 13, 2014
At the Tea Garden
My friend and I mull over the teas
displayed in square jars
with beveled glass labeled by type.
Each name seems part of a haiku:
"After the Snow Sprouting." "Moon Palace."
"Mist Over the Gorges."
I'm drawn to green teas
with unoxidized leaves that don't wither,
hold their grassy fragrance
like willow under snow in winter.
The proprietor offers real china for the Chinese tea.
Animal bones, fine ground, give whiteness,
translucency and strength
to the porcelain that appears delicate,
The rim of the cup is warm and thin.
My friend's lips are plush: her lovely
mouth opens to give advice I ask for.
We talk about memory of threshold events,
like a first kiss or a poem published.
She can't remember...
I tell her about my brother-in-law's
chemotherapy—his third bout of cancer.
He wants his family to put a pinch
of his ashes in things he liked:
his banjo, the top drawer of his desk, the garden.
I wouldn't mind becoming part
of a set of bone china that serves tea
in a cozy teahouse smelling of incense,
cinnamon, musk, and carved teak.
I'd like to be brought to a small table,
sit between friends' quiet words,
held in hands so close that breath
on the surface of warm drink
makes mist rise over their faces.
Construction began on the Berlin Wall on this date in 1961. After World War II, Germany had been divided up by British, French, Soviet, and American occupying forces. The city of Berlin lay completely within Soviet territory, but it was also divided. Soviet forces controlled the eastern part of the city and the country, and they were increasingly concerned about locking it down against the democratic West. The border was porous after the war, and millions of East Germans emigrated west in search of greater opportunities. By 1961, they were leaving at a rate of a thousand per day.
So in the early hours of the morning, East German soldiers quietly began laying down barbed wire: a hundred miles of it just inside the border of East Berlin. It wasn't long before the wire was replaced by a six-foot block wall, which the East German authorities called an "Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart." Nine years later, the wall was raised to 10 feet, but people still tried to escape. Finally, in 1989, with the end of the Cold War, East and West Berlin residents gathered on either side of the wall and began chipping away at it, knocking off blocks with sledgehammers and climbing back and forth over it. The wall was formally dismantled, and Germany reunified, in 1990.
It's the birthday of novelist Tom Perrotta (books by this author), born in Garwood, New Jersey (1961). He grew up in blue-collar Newark, idolizing Bruce Springsteen. After he went on to study creative writing and started publishing his own novels, he didn't want to distance himself from his New Jersey life. He said: "I like to write simply and clearly. I never wanted to write for the guys I met in college; I wanted to write for the guys I grew up with who weren't literary sophisticates. I have an allergy to fancy writing."
His books include Election (1998), Little Children (2004), and The Abstinence Teacher (2007). His most recent book is The Leftovers (2011), about what might happen if the Rapture didn't quite live up to evangelical expectations. Stephen King called it "the best Twilight Zone episode you never saw — not 'The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,' but 'The Monsters Are Us in Mapleton.'"
It's the birthday of director Alfred Hitchcock, born in London (1899). His father was a greengrocer — and a strict man. Once, when the five-year-old Alfred misbehaved, his father sent him to the police station and they locked him in a cell for a few minutes to teach him a lesson. Hitchcock was so terrified that he was afraid of the police for the rest of his life, and he rarely drove a car so that he could not be pulled over. Hitchcock directed great suspense and horror films, including Rebecca (1940), Notorious (1946), Rear Window (1954), Vertigo (1958), Psycho (1960), and The Birds (1963).
He said: "A good film is when the price of the dinner, the theatre admission and the babysitter were worth it."
It's the birthday of sharpshooter Annie Oakley, born Phoebe Ann Mosey in Woodland, Ohio (1860). She was born in a log cabin and grew up in poverty; after her father froze to death in a blizzard, she helped support her family by hunting. She was such a good shot that in 1875, at the age of 15, she entered a shooting contest and won, beating a well-known marksman named Frank Butler. Butler ended up marrying Annie and making her part of his touring act. When Buffalo Bill Cody's famous Wild West Show needed a new performer, Oakley auditioned, and she became the star of the show. One of her fans was Sitting Bull, the chief who had defeated General Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn. After seeing one of her performances, he was so impressed that he offered to pay for a photograph of the two of them together.
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®