The Tea Party

New neighbor girls have settled in.
We hear the squeals and screams,
the mother calls and father scoldings
through the open windows.
An angry hedge divides us in back,
though our houses lean together,
shingles and sagging porches
almost blending, identical
weeds abuzz with bumblebees.
The low-slung church
of solemn Mennonites
sits glum and silent
across the street.
The girls' names are Faith and Abby,
my mother tells me,
ten and seven in stiff blue dresses.
Their parents never spoke to us.

Just up the hill, behind a fence,
white-washed and cedar-lined,
Charlene and Marilyn,
   the Jewish girls
live in the great brick house
(anything brick
     is a mansion to us).
I play canasta with Marilyn (my age),
learn to admire her parents,
watch as they light
     the Chanukah candles,
move among them summers
as hundreds congregate
at their swimming pool.
Their mother loves opera,
but not, she says,
not Wagner.

One August day,
an invitation comes,
crayon on tablet paper,
for tea with Faith and Abby.
My mother says be nice and go.

I sit in their yard
with toy furniture.
The doll whose daddy
I'm pretending to be
has one arm missing.

The tea, which is licorice
dissolved in warm water,
is served in tiny cups,
tarnished aluminum,
from a tiny aluminum teapot.
I want to gag
     from the taste of it,
but I sip on and ask for more.

Now Faith addresses me.
"I'll dress the baby
and we shall take her to church."
"Oh, we don't go to church,"
I told my newfound Mrs.

"Never, ever?"
                      "Not even once?"
I shook my head --
I've never set foot inside a church.

"That's just what Daddy told us!"
Abby exclaimed. "You'll go to Hell!"

"You'll go to Hell and be damned!"
they chanted,
"You'll go to hell and be damned!"

"What else does your Daddy say?"
I asked them.  "He says
you'll go to Hell and be damned,
because you're atheists and heathens."

Faith looked fierce,
She poured more tea
and made me take it,
as if it were holy water,
as if I would drink
baptism by stealth.
She raised her cup daintily,
glanced and nodded
at the fence and the cedars.
"Charlene and Marilyn
will go to Hell, too,
right to the bottom
of the flaming pit,
because they're Jews
and murdered Jesus.

Would you like ice cream now?"


  1. Caterina BelvedereApril 20, 2011 at 5:04 PM

    I love this poem Brett. Concrete imagery and very evocative. An important poem...


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