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   Jacket 34 — October 2007        link Jacket 34 Contents page        link Jacket Homepage

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Todd Swift

Four poems:

Taking Tea with Charles Bernstein
My Universities
Winter Winter Tennis
The Red Bathing Cap

This piece is about 5 printed pages long.
It is copyright © Todd Swift and Jacket magazine 2007.

Taking Tea with Charles Bernstein

Lapsang Souchong with a lapsed sous chef;
Charles enjoys its smoky aroma and tarry taste.
Keemun with a Communard;
Charles delights in a lightly-scented nutty flavour.
Yunnan with a U-turning UN man;
Charles likes the maltiness with milk.
Gunpowder with Guy Fawkes;
Charles notes the soft honey taste, the little bang of it.
Chun Mee with Connie Chung;
Charles raises his eyebrows at its smoothness.
Oolong with Long John Silver;
Charles eschews milk and sugar, not wanting them to dominate.
Ti Kwan Yin with a typist quite intuitive;
Charles swoons at the fragrant infusion.
Pouchong with Pol Pot;
Charles is suspicious of the very sweet, stylish taste.
Pai Mu Tan Imperial with a pretty tanned empress;
Charles notes the small buds of this rare, white tea.
Yin Zhen with L. Cohen;
Charles spits out the silvery needles.
Jasmine with a Jass band;
Charles sits in with Bix and finds delicate modern time.
Rose Congou with a Belgian from the Congo;
Charles admires the great skill used in the handling of the leaves.
Earl Grey with Duke Ellington;
Charles considers this mandarin blend a tad traditional.
Darjeeling with Jar Jar Binks;
Charles celebrates with the “Champagne of Teas”.
Dimbula with Dmitri Shostakovich;
Charles sips the light, bright, crisp tea; his mouth feels fresh.
English Breakfast with Edie Sedgwick;
Charles likes this strong bed tea.
Afternoon Tea with Anthony Blunt;
Charles bites into a cucumber sandwich.
House Blend with Olivia Hussey;
Charles is comforted by the type most people use at home.
Bubble Tea with Bazooka Joe;
Charles is amused by this beverage with tapioca balls.
Iced Tea with Richard Blechynden;
Charles, hot by now, is refreshed by this ice cold drink.

My Universities

Debating the relative merits of Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark,
Or Tears For Fears, while April ice melts slowly in Westmount Park
Now appears to be less world-shaking than when, Misha G., we both
Could be smartly vehement about Richard Rorty, Boy George, Truth,
Logic & being spanked by Marianopolis twins known to us as Ruth.
Not that we were L. Cohen’s heirs, but rather a pair of young pioneers
Gazing into the Future with our smoking jackets for uniforms, sayers
Of sooth but more often faux-decadent imbibers of lascivious perfumes,
Who often drank tea (before it was Pennyroyal) on mornings as Winter
Dripped away as surely as Youth does–as children crushed on looms;
If such industrial imagery seems a tad stark, consider the Reagan Years
Were also ours in Montreal; we danced: slim Japanese New Wavers,
The Cure & The Smiths, if not allies, our aural neighbours; felt Time’s
Axis turn as early Eloquence (our praxis) dried up in Age’s Summer.

Winter Winter Tennis

When a child, I was a reed.
People bend. Straw burns, too.
And burning mends. The air has faith
in smoke signals, having had them
in its ways. Sheaves are fruitful.
The person you’re kindest to
is the one you want to save. Fire owns
the ruins it creates. Ash on the brow
means only one love inside the mind.
Thieves in the temples means a cold.
Want to grow old and take down
this book. Want you to know me
as someone who once had a look
and a place to call their town. Voted
for a mayor who kissed a rose.
There was also a pink child in the frame
and what’s her name. He won, he won,
they over-proclaimed. Ran races
of boys through villages, trailing flames.
Am this, this way, this very same.
Wouldn’t see it any other way.
Should this enter woodlands where
poplars recreate, overturn the maypoles,
suckle ancestral possibilities ho! of tone;
born alone hey! in a cloud of verbal turns.

The Red Bathing Cap

Red bathing cap
At the edge
Of the lake.
All of her prepares
For the water
At five o’clock,
Sun reduced,
Most bathers gone.
Mother, you stood
So before me
As I read, when
You were young,
Without the long line
Of the operation
Divisive on your hip.
You swam out
Clean and strong,
For an hour, then,
Until your head was small
On the surface,
Or not visible at all,
As I would, from time
To time, look up
From Mimesis
Or some anthology
To make sure you hadn’t
Drowned. Beautiful, tall,
You’d go directly in,
Continue, as the lake’s
Black surface dulled
At evening, and flies
Prepared themselves
For the bats to come;
Your arms bringing you
Through reflections of
White-barked trees, stone,
So far, until you’d return
Shivering, to shore,
And I’d race to bring
Your towel down,
As my father built a fire.
Enwrapped, you’d stand
By it, and dry your hair.
Now, there is no fire
Here at this public place,
And Tom is dead a year.
You’re older–water
Cannot keep us young
Forever–and limp
To where you start to enter.
I want to go with you tonight,
Keep pace, but you always
Swam out alone, serene.
Red cap–(brightened like
A pricked thumb)–how it goes
In and out of the going black
Steady as your pulse, a sewing
Needle, threading water
With your breathing stroke–
Is like a light, a light to me
That says the where and why
Of home, of coming home.
I’ll bring your blue towel as
You stand out in summer dusk.

Todd Swift

Todd Swift

Todd Swift was born in Montreal in 1966, grew up in St-Lambert, Quebec, and moved to Europe in 1997. He has an MA in Creative Writing from The University of East Anglia (UEA). He is Oxfam Poet-in-residence, Poetry Editor for Nthposition online magazine, a Lecturer in Creative Writing at Kingston University and Birkbeck, and a Core Tutor for The Poetry School, in London. He is the editor of many international poetry anthologies, including 100 Poets Against The War and Life Lines: Poets for Oxfam, the best-selling British poetry CD. Four of his own poetry books have been published, most recently Winter Tennis (2007). He is the co-editor, with Jason Camlot, of Language Acts: Anglo-Québec Poetry, 1976 to the 21st Century.

Acknowledgments: “Taking Tea With Charles Bernstein”, “My Universities” and “Winter, Winter Tennis”. From Winter Tennis (DC Books, 2007).

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