You are here

Strong Black Tea with Honey and Lemon

Billy Collins

I think back to making the tea,

filling the kettle from the cold water tap

as I looked out the kitchen window

at the stone walls and patches of yesterday’s snow,


then turning a knob on the stove,

putting a flaming wooden match to the gas jet,

and heating the cup with hot water,

as I thought of my mother doing the same.


I pulled a teabag from the little box

and a cloud in the shape of England passed over me.

The boiling water spit from the kettle,

and every season seemed sadder than the last one.


I cut a lemon wedge

and thought about my wife on another continent,

and when I lowered a spoonful

of shining honey into the dark water,


the sick and the poor

crossed my mind as well as soldiers and the police.

A Rhine maiden swam along the bottom of a river

and a man on crutches swung by.


A steaming cup and a room full of sunlight,

a good hand to lift the cup to my lips

and another to wave pen

over a wide open notebook –


for a few minutes, that was enough –

to be alone with tea

on a Sunday morning in February –

then came the poem and not knowing when it was done.

From Magma No. 36, Winter 2006

Billy Collins was Poet Laureate of the United States for 2001–2003. His collection, The Trouble with Poetry and Other Poems, was published by Picador 2006.