The Proposal

By L.L. Barkat

“Perhaps, let’s go to Delft, ”
he said, taking the silver tea caddy
gingerly off the shelf. It was Betjeman and Barton—
not the shelf, which was of rosewood,
but the caddy painted slight with numbers, avoirdupois,
the weight of tea I steep to pour in porcelain.

“Why should we?” I lifted porcelain.
Not the kind they make in Delft—
copied from the Chinese, high-resistance, unlike the measure avoirdupois
adopted through a confluence of words… Latin, French as the tea caddy
I opened for the promise, that petaled-rose would
spread its fragrance with Darjeeling; Betjeman and Barton

sell it so. I wonder if it’s Betjeman or Barton
who dreamed of almonds, grapes and peonies to drift in porcelain.
Who bare-suggested in a whisper that a hint of rose would
be a better choice than, let’s just say, a tulip, yellow, plucked from Delft?
I mused on Netherland’s canals and stretched towards the tea caddy.
What if he could weigh my thoughts in dark avoirdupois?

A measure partly from the Latin, avoirdupois
came over from to have, to hold, possess, like the Betjeman and Barton
I hold this very moment, twisting cover of a tight-sealed tea caddy
which, had it come from long ago, might rather be of bone-ash porcelain
hand-painted blue with scenes of domesticity from Delft.
Milk maids, windmills, a tulip— not a rose— would

play across it like the Madagascar sun on rosewood
stolen from the tropics, shipped through China, measured in avoirdupois—
all multiples of which are based on pounds, like stones of city walls in Delft.
You cannot find this in the catalog from Betjeman and Barton,
the knowledge that the British added stones as hard as fired porcelain,
or that the city once exploded like the fragrance from this silver tea caddy,

assaulting air and narrow streets with powder they don’t sell in tea caddies,
brass-mounted, inlaid carefully, satin-wood or rosewood,
the larger ones called tea chests, often seated near the porcelain
in dining rooms where merchandise bears not the paint of bold avoirdupois
but is quite fragrant with rare teas of fine purveyors. Betjeman and Barton
is my favorite, see, residing in the heart of passion—Paris—not in Delft.

I place the silver tea caddy directly on the shelf, unpainted with the weight of ebony avoirdupois,
silver tipped with fresh-spilled leaves scattered on the rosewood, lined with Betjeman and Barton
rarities to pour into my porcelain, which would, I tell him, never come from Delft.

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