Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

Tea Time in Troy

Tea Time in Troy

By Harold Witt

A clock with cupids bonged the quiet time
for thin tea in the thin house of Aunt Elaine.
Like deacons sat her stitched-with-sampler chairs,
the plates, handpainted, passed from hand to hand—
scenes from the classic myths—Troy burned
under stale cookies daily, a punctual doom.

And there was always talk of death and doom
in the room while ribbons rustled and slow time
hurried the guests homeward (one was burned
in a condemned hotel owned by Aunt Elaine).
The plates, handpainted, passed from hand to hand;
there seemed a click of bones about the chairs,

asthmatic cushions gasping in the chairs.
The cupid clock bonged again like doom,
the stale cookies passed to the thinning hand
and someone, coughing, questioned, "Is it time
for the evening paper yet, Elaine?"
Through windows, like a city, sunset burned;

eyes in the smoky glow watered and burned,
bones creaked on the creaking chairs.
An album of the past, sat Aunt Elaine
explaining, as cups clicked, an ancient doom:
"Remember, Margaret, just about that time
the good looking O'Brien boy lost his hand—"

"It was his left—no right—foot not his hand.
You seem to forget, Elaine. Our house burned,
don't you remember? at the same time—"
But she insisted to the thinning chairs
it was the hand and not the foot of doom.
Sometimes she seemed not one Elaine,

she said, but many women named Elaine.
This was not hers, this twisted twiglike hand;
excellent Elaine did not deserve that doom—

to be embroidered with these pains that burned
and stitched her like the samplers to the chairs.
"Have you forgotten, Margaret, the time—

he said I was outside time?" cried Aunt Elaine
to the empty chairs, the cold cup in her hand,
while maples burned, and Troy in porcelain doom.

Prairie Schooner, Vol. 28, No. 3 (Fall 1954), pp.212-213


Harold Witt (1923-1995) was the author of thirteen books of poetry and a regular contributor to the New Yorker. He was the recipient of many awards, including the Emily Dickinson Award from the Poetry Society of America. He was best-known for his sonnets.

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