May 16 is Denise Levertov Day in Seattle. For a listing of related events, including a choral setting of Levertov’s poem “Making Peace,” visit St. John’s Parish.
I’m waiting for the kettle to boil in Denise’s kitchen. It’s mid-November and raining. Out the window, the branches of her unruly pear are outlined against the gray sky. At three-thirty it’s already dusk. I look across neighboring roofs and down to Lake Washington where I can barely distinguish lake water from the black forest rising behind it.
I pour boiling water into Denise’s serviceable yellow tea pot wide enough to hold four cups, swirl it around the sides, and dump it into the sink. I put three tablespoons of English Breakfast tea into the pot, refill it with water, and steep until it is black and strong. I set it on a tray next to a sugar bowl, pitcher of milk and a plate of cookies, and carry it all into the living room where Denise is sitting on the couch.
Brewing a perfect pot of tea was our secret pleasure, our first sip was conspiratorial, the second and third a signal to begin a conversation. In between tea times, we found ways to remember them to stay connected. On one of her travels, Denise bought me a tiny book with illustrations and instructions for each step. I would search Seattle’s bakeries and import shops for the most buttery shortbread to bring when we next visited. Her English upbringing meant she could out drink me, insisting that I drink one more cup, eat one more cookie. I’d always accept even though I was buzzing from caffeine and with trying to keep up my half of the conversation.
On our way to a reading or concert, she would often offhandedly tell me about an insight she had after a dream, or after something she’d read, or seen, or sensed: a woman fishing on a pier who symbolized in her mind a historic era; a dream of her parents climbing the stairs; an intuition of the dead seeing through her eyes. Only later when I read poems based on these insights did I realize she had confided something of great importance to her. Read the full story »