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Spring 1999

The Cup

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What was going through me at that time of childhood
when my mother drinking her morning coffee would drive me wild with loathing and despair?
Every day, her body hunched with indignation at having had to leave its sleep,
her face without its rouge an almost mortal pale,
she'd stand before the stove and wait until the little turret on the coffee pot subsided,
then she'd fill her cup and navigate her way across the kitchen.

At the table, she'd set the cup down in its saucer, pour in milk, sit,
let out a breath charged with some onerous responsibility I never understood,
and lift the cup again.
There'd be a tiny pause as though she had consciously to synchronize her mouth and hand,
then her lips would lengthen and reach out, prehensile as a primate's tail,
and seem to grasp the liquid with the sputtering suctioning of gravity imperfectly annulled.
Then, grimacing as though it were a molten metal she was bringing into herself—
always grimacing, I'd think: did she never know what temperature the stuff would be?—
she'd hold about a spoonful just behind her teeth before she'd slide it thickly down.

Thickly, much too thickly:
she must have changed its gravity in there to some still more viscous, lava-like elixir.
Then there'd be a grateful lowering of her shoulders.
Also then her eyes would lift to focus on a point beyond my head
as though always then a thought had come to her that needed rarer ranges of reflection.
She'd do that twice, all that always twice, and put the coffee down.
In its personal cauldron, the military brownish stuff would sway—
was her passion for it going to make it boil again?— and finally come to rest.

...As I never came to rest, as I had to watch, I knew the interval by heart,
her hand came down to it again, her head lower to it again,
that excruciating suction sound again, her gaze loosening again.
I'd be desperate, wild, my heart would pound.
There was an expression then, "to tell on someone": that was what I craved, to tell on her,
to have someone bear witness with me to her awful wrong.
What was I doing to myself? Or she to me?
Oh, surely she to me!

C. K. Williams

C. K. Williams divides his time between Paris and Princeton. His poetry books include Repair and The Vigil.


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