Most importantly, the water must be truly boiling.
Frantic within the constraint of tempered glass, deformed globes of gas
rush rapturously upward to burst into steam.
The chamber has been prepared each afternoon for fifty years,
a gleaming window in the crumbling wall of time.
Those who serve, having vowed eternal obedience under a waning moon,
are honored by participation in the observance of the hallowed ritual.
They glide, ageless, through gilded afternoons,
silently slippered on soft saffron-swirled silk,
murmuring of myosotis and macaroons,
vanishing through violet draperies of velvet.
In the translucent agate atrium,
the aproned apprentices arrange anemones, asters and astilbes,
flanked with foliage and ferns.
No perfumed flower ever diffuses its freshness into this frozen air,
lest it pollute the sacred fragrance.
Only on the embroidered pillows are scatterings of scented blossoms;
lily, lilac, lavender and eglantine in satin-stitched sunlight.
(Beyond the locked glass grid of the french doors,
summer recedes, leaving long shadows,
darkness deepening the nenuphar pools.)
Lower in the house, at the altar of an inferior deity, the furtive acolytes stir;
widdershins circles the glass rod in the sapphire receptacle of ruin.
Each flawed supplicant descends the dozen steps of doom,
to consume and be consumed; we above disregard them.
Now, as the hour is nearly upon us,
the long processional retinue approaches,
noiseless but for the chime of cutlery and china.
They enter bearing the artifacts of privilege and power,
the rewards of dominion and dalliance,
the panoply of substance and sustenance.
Before us upon brocade is placed a tabletop landscape, a pocket continent;
star dunes of sugar, snowy deserts in recurved enamelled bowls;
deep pools of cool milk sending streams of condensation
down the sides of a silvergilt pitcher chased with mythic creatures;
a vermeil filigree basket, lined in vermilion linen,
holds a precipice of steaming crab puffs.
On the heavy silver platters are arranged the myriad delicacies,
ornamental gardens of temptation in geometric formality;
hazelnut paté, crystallized pansies, smoked hamadryad,
angelica strudel, peacock terrine, daylily fritters,
canary melon balls with rosettes of squab salami,
blushing nectarines and white musk strawberries resting on écru lace,
unicorn cheese, mockturtle tortellini, mango marmalade,
nameless meat tartare avec sauce Robert,
quaint majolica dishes of marmoset custard and candied mandrake,
and other items too numerous and decadent to mention.
The roseate lustre of the plates, cups and saucers, painted with fairy-tales,
fanciful figures in delicate hues of orange, maroon and brilliant green,
mauve spatterings and metallic glitterings,
nestle in pale pink flowered napery,
reflect in the dark patina of pearwood paneling.
The shining moment is upon us.
The leaves had been selected to harmonize with our wellwaters;
black, green and gunpowder grey, starred with bergamot and jasmine.
Now, diffusing under the stream from the kettle like fermenting peat,
the serendipitous brew is steeping.
An archaic aroma rises from the goose-shaped silver teapot;
fumes redolent of rust and lost realms,
dust rising from the hoofprints of a golden horse,
mist over a yellow river seen beyond branches of flowering citron,
smoke from the pyre of a dying emperor,
as the tea deepens into the clear russet color of garnets.
At last the vessel tilts, the grinning beak opens,
to disgorge through the constellation of the strainer
our restoration, our refuge, our reality.
One sugar? two? five? a cloud of milk, please;
the cream is for three hedgehogs who scuttle from laps to share
and clean each other’s whiskers.
The discourse shifts; the day’s, the year’s, the ages’ indignities
fade with the sunset, leaving a benign glow;
a warmth from the core of being
suffuses the heart, the mind, the body, the room.
The air becomes bluer; the highest among the hierarchic servants
draws the damask draperies regretfully.
He is as thin as paper, as dry as daydreams.
Lolling, replete, we submerge slowly into the succulent
softness of the sofa cushions.
Tomorrow is another opportunity.
©1999 F.J. Bergmann
"Tea Ceremony" appeared in Sauce Robert (Pavement Saw Press, 2003)
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