The Teapot Speaks

Keith Emmons

We think this is a teapot.
This is a family of five on Christmas morning, at breakfast – smell the fresh tangerines!

The black scorchings from the stove.
The spout, neck of a squab, demands worms;
its squawk has obliterated differences.

Tin mines of Bolivia, roofs of tin-topped huts
sweep around a tiny dark lagoon.
This tea water flows from Borneo.

This teapot has a cap like:
hummock of ice; like
a toadstool top; like
a swelling of dawn;
like a symphony crescendo, at the moment of puncture . . .
the triangle; like
a torpedo – nose of detonation; like
a black funerary urn on a hilltop; like
a breast; like, somewhat like
the cap of a teapot.

Put a feathered stick to this handle
and no Zen master could miss the bull’s-eye.
Sitting immobile, this teapot gong resounds.

Who has riveted these struts for the handle?
Who has received this squat pot as a gift?

The children complain. They don’t want tea.

The presents wait. The fragrant pine
mingles with the tangerines and steam.

If leaning back, stroking my beard,
considering this teapot obesity, my rocking chair
dumps over backwards, can I say
I am over here, the teapot there?

Is this my reflection? I can’t even make it out.
Why does no one wash this teapot? And you poor thing –
you’re dented.

You are a curling ball. Players frantically sweep your path;
In a spy intrigue you explode.

You are a mine.
You are the writings of Chairman Mao.

At the table the mother weeps small wet teapots.
The young son smiles at the children. He knows about
impatience, mines, and Christmas: he has
one foot.

“When I was a boy! . . .” begins Father.

One hundred million years ago the brontosaurus reared.
Tumbling off the mountainside came
teapots the volcano spat.
Thus may a teapot put dinosaurs extinct.

You have killed a man!
You have killed a thousand men.
At a birth, you were passed from shaking husband hands
to an efficient country midwife.

Cézanne grips a spatula, legs splayed.
In Vermeer you repose among rectangles.
Is this Louis the Fourteenth’s hand?
Green tea is frothed with a bamboo whisk.
Did you end the war? Hirohito signs.
On the steppes you could have saved a thousand lives.
Did you hear the humming of the lonesome wife?
You serve Earl Grey’s with madeleines in Manchester.
Among austere Benedictines, you whistle.
You pour black coffee for Van Gogh’s miners in the Borinage.

Dali puts an ant upon your nipple.

You are among many neighbors, in a dark cabinet.
A mouse with twitching whiskers crouches. In his eye
is a luminous teapot.

If you were not a teapot, I would say continental Africa
is on your side.
Is this a dent or Borneo? Red and blue Chinese fish
circle in your waters.

You are a lesson in geography. To understand you
one needs an atlas.
You are on his shoulders now.

You, teapot, you boil in the minds of the children.
They dash, scattering tangerines. The son
hobbles to the tree where presents are heaped
like teapots.

“When I was a boy . . . ” concludes Father, “I was a teapot.”



Moon Drifter Reader

Keith Emmons

Long morning. We are on the edge
of the long morning. We are only a few
who see the dawn; our voices rise
as the great round ball of fire,
the great warming yellow globe,
caring not
for our small follies, caring not
if we aid one another
if we feed one another,
feed off one another,
if we eat each other.
For the sun rises and falls, as the tides
rising and falling,
bring the sea toward the shore,
then draw it back into itself,
the light revolving with the darkness.

If we love one another,
if we hate one other, nothing cares,
for there is nothing to care,
nothing to care,
the curlew peeps in the air,
the slow worm presses the dumb sod aside,
the crab scuttles sideways
inside his bony world.

The curlew peeps. The pilings
imperceptibly crumble into the mud.
Day by day the sea anemone
swaying their ghost-white arms, their jelly-tube hair,
waving as the moon sighs high, as the heron
swoops down on silent gray arms, as deer
nervously sniffle the air,
wondering if they dare trespass from the hills,
past land-humans in square-eyed boxes,

down to the bayside tule,
startling the heron
standing with his still silhouette.

We are the silent dawn unheard in books,
unread in papers, lost in radios,
caring not for wires and gasoline games.

We are a small people, two-legged, four-legged,
with fur feathers and skin;
we are a small and timid folk
on the edge of a huge and “civilized” noise.

We are moon-watchers.  Silently
we be unto ourselves, retreating . . . unto ourselves.
Hearing the earth-eating engines approach,
we back off, unto ourselves, sharing eyes, side-looks,
with ourselves, backing amongst ourselves,
we who see we mean one another no harm,
who see we mean not to thieve from one another
nor from the Mother we share.

And where we are fools
and crush one another,
we hope to learn a greater wisdom,
a greater gentleness,
that we may know before it’s too late,
if we crush our gentle brother
we crush ourselves.

Here we have the cast-off rubble of things,
in the field of fennel, on the cove,
the hutches, the hovels,
the houseboats and homes, men and women
young, old, but strong and daring –
daring to be themselves! –
daring to raise their children
as they are –
not as the outer world
wants them to be.
We take the cast-off rubble of things,
we take the leavings
that belong to no one –
to no one but Earth, and to those
who live on what Earth freely gives,
and deprives no one when we take it,
like the sunrise we all use
with no lessening for others.

Here again is the teepee sprouting from earth,
the sweat lodge,
the smoking tent for fish
given by the sea.

Here are gardens with the set-in seed,
the magic of pumpkin, squash, and corn,
of green sproutings leaping from Earth,
chickens earnestly scratching,
seeking the white grub under brown leaves,
running in panic before the goat
bleating with a mouthful of ripped-up grass.

The goat gives milk, the chicken
gives the egg, the earth the tomato,
the fish the sea as the horizon
gives us dawn each day.


Looking for the Sweater Draped Over My Shoulders

Keith Emmons

The young go searching.
It’s what they’re supposed to do.
If only we had discovered something
to tell the young!

I watched a friend die.
With tubes up her nose.
It took her years.
She was a great poet.
“We’re all going to die,”
and other Buddhist homilies.

I searched too.
I took every step
of the journey of a thousand miles.
And returned to the market place.
Only much older.
“This is it!” and other Zen clichés.

My pegs still carry me.
I still push a pen.
I know the spirit rises
with the eyes’ intercourse,
the ears, the nose, taste,
touch, and yes, thought.

Rises and dances,
as the dawn each day rises
and kisses every dew-tipped blade.
And shakes more dust on the old.