Get Lit Minute

Leila Chatti | "Tea"

March 18, 2022 Get Lit - Words Ignite Season 4 Episode 5
Get Lit Minute
Leila Chatti | "Tea"
Show Notes

In this week's episode of the Get Lit Minute, your weekly poetry podcast, we spotlight the life and work of poet, Leila Chatti. She is the author of the debut full-length collection Deluge (Copper Canyon Press, 2020), on the longlist for the 2021 PEN Open Book Award, and the chapbooks Ebb (New-Generation African Poets) and Tunsiya/Amrikiya, the 2017 Editors’ Selection from Bull City Press. Source

This episode includes a reading of her poem,  "Tea", featured in our 2022 Get Lit Anthology.


Five times a day, I make tea. I do this

because I like the warmth in my hands, like the feeling

of self-directed kindness. I’m not used to it—

warmth and kindness, both—so I create my own

when I can. It’s easy. You just pour

water into a kettle and turn the knob and listen

for the scream. I do this

five times a day. Sometimes, when I’m pleased,

I let out a little sound. A poet noticed this

and it made me feel I might one day

properly be loved. Because no one is here

to love me, I make tea for myself

and leave the radio playing. I must

remind myself I am here, and do so

by noticing myself: my feet are cold

inside my socks, they touch the ground, my stomach

churns, my heart stutters, in my hands I hold

a warmth I make. I come from

a people who pray five times a day

and make tea. I admire the way they do

both. How they drop to the ground

wherever they are. Drop

pine nuts and mint sprigs in a glass.

I think to care for the self

is a kind of prayer. It is a gesture

of devotion toward what is not always beloved

or believed. I do not always believe

in myself, or love myself, I am sure

there are times I am bad or gone

or lying. In another’s mouth, tea often means gossip,

but sometimes means truth. Despite

the trope, in my experience my people do not lie

for pleasure, or when they should,

even when it might be a gesture

of kindness. But they are kind. If you were

to visit, a woman would bring you

a tray of tea. At any time of day.

My people love tea so much

it was once considered a sickness. Their colonizers

tried, as with any joy, to snuff it out. They feared a love

so strong one might sell or kill their other

loves for leaves and sugar. Teaism

sounds like a kind of faith

I’d buy into, a god I wouldn’t fear. I think now I truly believe

I wouldn’t kill anyone for love,

not even myself—most days

I can barely get out of bed. So I make tea.

I stand at the window while I wait.

My feet are cold and the radio plays its little sounds.

I do the small thing I know how to do

to care for myself. I am trying to notice joy,

which means survive. I do this all day, and then the next.

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