Bonnie Wai-Lee Kwong
Fore and Aft

        This tea I mete lifts me into the morning.

        once hardened for journey, the leaves
    unfurl. I let them steep
without ritual.

        My mother’s father poured hot water over
    his teaware
while the tea steeped.

        He knew when to stop, so the bitter

        Sleep defying tea, leaves of the Chinese camellia,
    plucked from

        sold first for silver, then for somniferous mud,
    vengeance of Morpheus,

        Armed ships, deftly rigged fore and aft, sailed the seas
    and plied rivers.
Some bore

        the Union Jack, bold strokes like
    the ideogram for rice,
Others flew

        a banner spangled with stars, or flowers,
    or the fireworks
of war.

        When the smoke cleared, guns remained, solid
    as a city on borrowed

        Smoke, and the convection of dreams, clouded
    the opium addict who gave away
a daughter,

        my father’s mother, to his wife’s childless friend.
    Once adopted,
she never answered

        her birth mother again, never forgave
    the choice to keep her sister,
the beauty.

        She spent her youth studying mirrors,
    mercurial thieves
of time.

        Quicksilver had come by sea from California,
    where Chinese miners inhaled
fumes of insanity.

        I drink the fragrance of tea in the hulls
    of armed clippers

        low to water, lofty canvasses to clip the speed
    from the last inch
of wind,

        swift privateers, bearers of slaves,
    and other perishable

        The Baltimore clipper type of sailing craft is a delicate creation
    not unlike a fine violin or
a thoroughbred

        racehorse with the ultimate purpose for its existence
    being the only one thing—

        The first tea of the year to arrive in London
the highest.

        The clipper Nightingale cut her first waves in New Hampshire
    with her sharp bow
and sleek hull,

        her figurehead, the soaring soprano, Jenny Lind. She raced tea
    from Shanghai to London in a record
91 days.

        For her next owner, she sailed to the coast
    of Africa.
A sloop of war

        found her at Kabenda with men, women, and children,
    chained between decks,
and more

        waiting on the beach. Fever took many
    en route
to Liberia.

        The ocean of oblivion hid their stench, and ferried
    her captain, Bowen,
The Prince of Slavers,

        port to port, to carry on his secret trade
    in small winds
and pleasant weather.

        A shipwright built his wooden craft
    on cradle
and cribwork,

        carved the keel, her spine, and the frame, her ribs,
    from fine-grained

        beams, deck and ceiling planks,
    from dense, resinous

        spars from Sitka spruce and Douglas fir,
    trunnels from

        curved braces from the sweeping limbs of live oak,
    knees from the roots
of larch.

        The vessel rigged, the shipwright knocked out
    trigger timbers to ease her
into birth waters.

        What did he know of the arms on board
    to guard her
course and cargo?

        Swivel guns, close-range, wide-arced,
    to point at rebellion
on deck;

        iron carriage guns, cast in one piece,
for propulsion;

        blunderbusses, thunderguns of loud report,
    large bore,

        as captive jaws pried open with speculum oris,
    force feeding
to quell

        the quiet insurrection of hunger,
as songs

        of lamentation to the strings of banjar,
    after dance coerced at point
of whiplash,

        dance of raw flesh against iron shackles
    in ankle-to-ankle

        wide-mouthed as a pretty woman losing her teeth
    to Captain Philippe Liot’s fist
as he forced her,

        before he clamped the mouth of a 10 year-old,
    and pried her
open beneath him.

        Sold, price reduced, in Saint Domingue,
    the woman died
in two weeks.

        I drink beads of sweat on cane field slaves,
of the skin.

        I drink gold paint on the spiral stairs
    of Bristol

        I drink molasses distilled to pure escape
    in the shackles
of addiction.

        I drink cocoa and coffee, brown ivory
    on the backs
of sold children.

        I drink the cold winds of hunger. I drink
    the mirage of blue glass beads
in a growing desert.

        I drink raindrops of knowledge reviving desert fish
in mud.

        I drink the clean air of restraint. I drink my fill
    from a clear

        I drink truth, lucent from ice to vapor. I drink
    the cooling of war
and desire.

        I drink to my children, not far
    from the wrecked

        in tide pools star-spangled
    with possibilities.
I drink

        the irresistible, metallic, memory of tea,
    I drink its torpid