A Cup of Tea with Issa

by David W. McFadden

copyright ©Poems copyright David W. McFadden 2007

I’ve never seen a raindrop fall on a frog’s head but you have. You say the frog wiped away the water with his wrist and that’s good enough for me.
   Ever since I first heard it fifteen years ago your poem on the death of your son has been flitting in and out of my mind. And now I see there are two versions, the first having been revised on the later death of your daughter, in 1819, of smallpox. And now I want you to know that I hope you’ve been reunited with your sons and your daughters and your wives and your father, and that I prefer the first version.
   The sun has dropped behind the mountains and the tiny cars on the long winding road way over on the other side of the lake have their lights on. And a sense of amazement springs up, amazement that we live in a world where the sun continually rises and sets.
   The Marasmius oreades (delicious when fried with bacon) have formed a fairy ring in the shape of a giant number 3 in the courtyard lawn, reminding me of the time I saw three motorcycles parked diagonally at the curb in front of 111 Brucedale Avenue.
   In October you can look at the sides of the mountains and see the patterns made by the deciduous trees which have become bright yellow or orange among the coniferous which have remained dark green. Sometimes it seems like a territorial war up there but the conflict between the two types of trees is probably more in my mind than on the slopes.
   This morning the sky is blue but the tops of the mountains cling to thick giant puffs of pink and grey cloud. A small white cloud rises from the surface of the lake and tries to reach the big ones up above but by the time it gets halfway there it has almost completely disappeared.
   It’s pleasant to be so unhurried that you can see even the slowest-moving clouds moving. A part of me says I should be ashamed of myself but you know the more time you waste the more you get. It’s like money.
   On a rainy windy October moring a grey Volkswagen sits at the side of the road. It’s covered with hundreds of small wet yellow leaves plastered on the trunk, on the hood, on the roof – in a strangely satisfying pattern. Was it the rain and the wind or was it a subtle and patient artist with a pot of glue? Of course it was the wind and the rain and of course it’s a hackneyed idea. But for a moment I wonder. As you would have.
   It’s pleasant to have a cup of tea and think of you, Issa, and to think of others in the twentieth century having a cup of tea and thinking of you, Issa.

Notes on the Poem

We will always miss David McFadden's wondering, curious, whimsical voice. We are grateful he left us so much, such as Why Are You So Sad?, the 2008 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlisted work from which we've selected "A Cup of Tea with Issa" for this week's Poem of the Week. We're pretty sure these are the words of Kobayashi Issa that McFadden's narrator is contemplating:
Dew evaporates and all our world is dew… so dear, so fresh, so fleeting
(See more reflections on Issa's poem here.) The poem's narrator uses his contemplations of Issa as a gentle springboard into all sorts of beautiful observations about the world around him. What he sees and how he sees it is simpatico with an equally beautiful observation poet and editor Stuart Ross made about McFadden as he paid tribute to him in 2018:
"There's something about Dave that's just sort of the quiet, suburban fellow telling this story and then, yeah, somehow you find yourself being drawn into something that's magical or bewildering or surreal."
The narrator in "A Cup of Tea with Issa" does indeed tiptoe along the edges of the magical, from the lights of the cars at dusk, to the mushrooms forming a fairy ring, to the "territorial war" of the colours of the trees in October to how in the world a car came to be covered in hundreds of brilliant little leaves ... All of what McFadden notes through his narrator is truly "so dear, so fresh, so fleeting", isn't it?

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