China Cup by Lynne Byler

China Cup

Like when a bone breaks and fat tissue leaks
from marrow to blood,
I poured in hot coffee, the cup cracked cleanly,
and coffee poured straight through.
From the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons;
on the cup is a drawing called “The Dissecting Room” –
students crowd a corpse, whose arm drapes off the table;
a grinning future surgeon pokes at the dead man’s eye with a tool.

The cup is so delicate that light glows through,
a contradiction in china – beautiful and grim.
This gift brought back a decade ago
from your London semester,
I drank from it daily.
I love you by way of loving that cup.

When it broke, a remembered story poured out.
You held the door for three English bobbies
as they ran after someone.
One tipped his hat, the next said, “cheers,” and the third, “ta.”
So perfectly scripted for an American boy, that
you searched for the movie camera filming it all.
Even without footage, I saw it through your eyes.

It sits on a kitchen towel in two pieces.
I felt sorrow this morning
looking at its base more neatly dissected
than the dead man in the drawing.
Like the cream, for ten years
stirred in to cut the bitterness of coffee,
the broken cup’s leaked memory,
summoned and stirred,
cut the acid of its loss.

by Lynne Byler

Editor’s Note: This poem’s startling opening line draws the reader into a narrative of grief and acceptance, and ultimately, an appreciation of beauty in the midst of carnage.

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