the tea-story

I sometimes have afternoon tea with God.
It's usually only when I'm in need
of someone to comfort me;
someone reliable that is, because
I have plenty of friends with fractured lives
who watch my mouth move into various shapes
and emit sounds while my hands make gestures in space..
I'm being unkind, but my temper has been exceedingly poor since my last birthday.
Any way, I've resolved to have afternoon teas more often, even when I'm happy ...

When I want to spend time with God,
I find somewhere to dream,
and my journey begins ...
In my mind's eye I always choose a place on the top of a hill --

the highest in the land. It's as high as a mountain,

but I hesitate to call it that because there is a friendly feel to the place.

Even though the air is relatively still and warm,
an occasional breeze rustles the leaves
with the overall atmosphere remaining one of calm.
I imagine myself seated on an open-air platform --

set in the middle of an elaborate and exotic garden.
I can see out to the bluest sea one way, and in every other direction
the most marvellous landscapes shimmer in the sun.

I vary the actual scene every time I come for tea.
The panorama changes from essentially Australian, to Elysian,
to South American or English or African,
to super-surreal mixes of everything.

Today I have been set upon by thoughts of death. I don't know why it happens. My brain starts to sink beneath the weight of daily life inside a house, in a little suburb, near a minor city, on a rather beautiful but suppressed island in the southern hemisphere. I want so much to be glad about being alive. I try to turn my thoughts to the sky, to the children who laugh and skip around me unaware of their mother's oscillating mindscapes ... to the poems which burble inside my belly like brooks in which are swimming schools of silver sea-dragons, to the trip to England last year (so colonial of me, I know, but O it was wonderful). I visited a magnificent cathedral, the walls of which were crumbling in places, revealing sea-shells and pieces of flint and fossil, so that the building itself seemed to have drawn in the life by which it had been surrounded for centuries. It wasn't on the main tourist routes and so it was quite private there. The building seemed almost modest about sharing its visual feast of tapestries, golden inscriptions, curvaceous space and mosaic floors ...

Today, however, in order to find any semblance of peace, I need to return to the top of the mountain where the plants in the garden next to me are always different.

Sometimes there are large leafy trees,
sometimes lavender and honeysuckle,
or there might be roses and love-in-the-mist, or cornflowers,
or poppies and freesias, and the reddest blood-red tulips,
fields and fields of sunflowers, tall and radiant and strong,
and there are occasionally orange trees and mangoes
and wildly effervescing orchids,
or so many roses that the fragrance makes me weak
with joy at the generous extravagance of it all.

The house in which I really live is incomplete, like most of my life. I feel as if everything has been a waste of time. Turning forty has been a minor nightmare.
Reaching fifty will probably only be worse.
It helped me recently to counsel a twenty year old woman who felt that she had ruined her entire life. At first I thought that perhaps she had, and I could give her no comfort. But as she sat before me I began to envisage her person as a great-grandmother vivaciously expounding the story of her early years to several generations of young women. The thought of myself in the same position made me smile.

I'd like a grand old loungeroom in which to sit and peer at the fruit of my children's children's loins; to drink in their kindred features, their familiar turns of phrase.

I ponder the ova developing in my seven-year-old's belly as she stands her gymnast's body upside down against a tree ... My eyes move past her feet and upward to the tree's smallest, tallest branches, imagining them as roots in blue earth; and as I do, my thoughts drift back to the platform near the sky where tea will be served so very soon ...

I need to imagine the chairs.
There are only ever two --
one for God and one for me.
Sometimes they are the deepest green
with finely engraved markings that reveal the bronze beneath.
And the cushions have a thick nap
of blue-black-purple and tassels of real gold.
Tiny petals of scarlet silk have been carefully embroidered
around the edges, and at the centre of each petal is a single sequin of fragile

When I was younger I spent much of my time with a vague sense of unease and fear. Living all my life on this island, which was once a dumping ground for an empire, has affected my psyche. HELL is a word used frequently to describe geographical aspects of the place. OBLIVION is another. As a child I had an overgrown graveyard for a playground. It was a city for me with each of the plots being a little yard with its house. Emily Dickinson's poetry didn't ever seem strange because my mind frequently haunted the depths of despair, alabaster chambers ... and thoughts about dead people. I didn't like one of the graves, though. It had several bricks removed from its walls and so I was afraid to visit it much. Perhaps my imagination has been forever ruined by the daydreams manufactured in that place, who can say?

There was a church made of sandstone standing, austere, next to the graves. It looked down on my miniature city from its lofty height. Sometimes I'd throw she-oak cones at its biscuity walls from my fort in the tree at the centre of the cemetery. In later life, however, I became too religious for my family and friends, always returning to images of life after death and gentle Jesus roaring like a lion. I even became too loud for the local parishioners, who frowned when I would occasionally SHOUT for joy.

Yesterday I fought with my brothers because they wouldn't come to church with me. And why should they? The people at my church have just set upon their minister and his wife in a most vicious way, spitting slander like sage and grey marbled phlegm all over the pair, barring them from coming to church, even at Christmas. And what was their crime, this impious couple? They'd invited street kids to come to a tea party. They'd also dared to let young drunken people kiss passionately in the back of the church, hoping to show them a safe place, somewhere full of love and hope. AND they'd spent far too much of the Lord's money, being kind to those less fortunate than themselves.

And now my head aches beside my heart as I contemplate my own urge to murder those I dare to judge as guilty of trespass, thereby condemning myself according to the words of Jesus. And so I go back to my own nebulous party, yearning to escape my confusion. The table is almost set.I breathe in the imaginary fresh air,
filling every fibre of my being with blue-sky-oxygen.
My hands rest upon the tablecloth which is plush velvet
and, again, it is green, but variegated so that it might really be moss.
The fringe is soft as it brushes against my legs.
The cloth is finely embroidered and appliqued with words
and images that are so beautiful and so personal
that I can hardly bear the care that has gone into this setting.
I see episodes from my life transformed into the art of the cloth.
I see animals and fish and birds
and everything I have ever loved on the earth;
and the sky and angels and all of the heavens are there;
and there are words of poetry, finely woven into the fabric --
they shine with meanings that are so transcendent as to transport me
to dream-scapes from my past,
and from my future,
and some so current,
so full of this very moment,
that I never want to leave their presence.

The telephone rings.
A voice calls from the depths of my house, "MUMMY! It's for YOU!"
I slowly rise and gather the strands of my heart and soul and mind.
It's not an important call. Just something or other about the terrible THING that happened at CHURCH. About the facts and the lies and what THEY are saying now and how everyone is saying THIS and that and how no one wants anyone hurt, but ...I place the receiver back onto the body of my old black phone, and then I remove it again, walking away from its beep, beep, beep ...I settle back down into the leaves on the floor of my garden, close my eyes ... and return to the tea-party.

Two large round cups are almost translucent.
Their dark crimson surface is overlaid with mother of pearl.
The saucers are black-blue and made of a sea-shell
I have never seen before.
They are so finely crafted as to seem like fragile china,
but I know they are not.

The tea smells wonderful -- like cinnamon and fine tobacco
and some other fragrance, a name for which I cannot find.
Scones, steaming with heat,
lay nestled in a cotton cloth.
The clotted cream is thick and fresh,
and almost the colour of a newly rising moon.
Jam, full of red ripe strawberries,
has been piled into a silver bowl,
and another overflows
with dark cherry conserve.
Oh who will come?
God won't you hurry?

And this is the best moment.
Before I knew what the word

I used to think it was the penultimate moment and I'd see an enormous hand
penning across the sky in a glorious feathery font,
"ultimate ... moment" or

whatever else it was that was so splendid as to deserve the erroneous adjective,"pen-ultimate". Today, though, as I sip my tea and smile into the face opposite

mine, the face shining like a thousand suns reflected in the sea as seen from a mountain top ... I hear a single momentous sentence:

"If you can forego the desire for murderous vengeance spiked with bitterness and venom, I'll fill your land with mercy salted with a rushing frenzy of living waters which will burst upon innumerable hearts, smashing down ancient walls and leaving in their wake a peace that burns forever."
God smiles as the challenge vibrates, invisible in the air.
The wind in the wattle leaves overhead urges me to make a choice.
And so, I do.