The Grail Is Both A Cauldron And A Spear

by John Wilks
The Write Idea
First Place, August 2013
Judged by Robert Sward

Mum makes us tea: two cups on two saucers
from four separate services jingle
in her palsied grip like sleigh bells. Can’t beat
proper china for a decent brew. Mugs
aren’t ladylike.
Out come garibaldis
and fig rolls, soft from the rusting Peek Freans
tin of long gone Cream Assorted. Thanks ma,
but I’m on a diet. Don’t be daft girl,
you don’t eat enough to feed a sparrow.

Our drinks are dilute milk, scalding with mere
hints of tea-bag. Auntie Ellen would be
mortified: without the leaves, the patterned
dregs to read, she could not shape our future
with her dread pronouncements. I take a pinch
of salt with each cube of sugar. How’s tricks?
mum asks. Mustn’t grumble, says I, blowing
steam like a rolling haar around the rim
of a porcelain shore. Same old, same old.

I take a noisy sip and am a child
again, yet feel no younger. Touch my tongue
against the back of my teeth and expect
to taste metal. Frown as my forehead tenses,
as if from pigtails pulled back tight. Most nights,
I dream this is still home. Dream of strange paths
that trip my questing feet. They say the Grail
is both a cauldron and a spear; chalice
of vajazzled gold and wooden vessel.

In all its forms, a woman is not pure
enough to touch, or even look upon,
the holy cup of blood.
Sod it. I dunk
a biscuit in my tea and let its sweet
sacrament melt in my mouth. The body
of Christ.
Bless me father, for I have not
confessed a single one of my sins. Nor
will I ever. Bless me mother, instead.
Ah! The cup that cheers. She smacks her lips. Bliss.

Without question, the #1 spot goes to author of "The Grail Is Both a Cauldron and a Spear."

There is an authenticity here, a ring of truth that holds the reader's attention from beginning to end. I like, too, the effective, the wonderful and compelling use of dialogue, the mother's voice clearly different from the daughter's so the drama, the tension between mother and daughter, such as it is, stands as a playlet. And certainly one gets to know something about each of the two women, the mother and her cups and saucers "from four separate services." And the daughter becoming a child again in the presence of her mother ("yet feel no younger.")

"How's tricks?" Mum asks. "Mustn't grumble," says I. "Same old, same old."

Relaxed as it is, utterly offhand, there's an underlying iambic pattern to the exchange and indeed to the poem as a whole.

Prosaic seeming, yes, it's true, yet poetry enough for the moment. Even an exchange as mundane as the above can have rhythm, drama, a crystal clear "now," the predictable, the "ordinary" becoming unexpectedly memorable. "Heightened speech," it's called, and, yes, here we have one definition of poetry.

So there's a transformation taking place here, a transformation culminating in the earned breaking out of charged speech, what one hears in the poet's ringing last four lines,

"....The body / of Christ. Bless me father, for I have not / Confessed a single one of my sins. Nor / Will I ever. Bless me mother, instead. / 'Ah! The cup that cheers.' She smacks her lips. 'Bliss.'"

--Robert Sward