Tea Death, by Jo Shapcott

15 December 2012

When he passed out into his tea
he expected to wake up with his nose
warm and wet, lungs topped up
with Earl Grey, snorting

tea leaves which would gather
in the distant networks
of his blood. It might be a relief
to drown that way and not

in the fine wine he’d ploughed
an expert front crawl through
all these years. At tea time.
Splashing through Lapsang

towards scones even angels
fought over, where the Earl himself
would face him at table,
and they’d grin at each other

so hard that golden liquid
would strain through their teeth,
leak out under their nails,
from their ears, tear ducts, nipples

and then – if they laughed –
spout from their wobbling
belly buttons like the outward
breaths of whales.


Tea is very important – something one realises as a Briton abroad, where cafes seem to think that Lipton Yellow Label is an acceptable thing to serve. It’s not.* And so one starts to border on the obsessional, and understand the thrust of Professor Elemental’s Cup of Brown Joy all too well. Shapcott does something rather different here – but consider the poem a while, and in a warped way, it still suggests tea as something of solace.

[Read in Of Mutability, published by Faber & Faber. Ripped from http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/jun/05/tea-death-poem-jo-shapcott]

* Please don’t read this as being the lament of a typically moany expat. There are many, many good reasons to be gone.


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