i never got to say thank you to the woman who poured the tea

by Jen Schneider

  1. her restaurant was one a few open past nine. bookended by bars and no license to serve, she prioritized platters over pennies. patronage over pour ratios.
  2. a collection of teapots on a corner tea cart. florals, berries, citrus. gingers, honey, peach. bags & brews of a billion backgrounds.
  3. though the room was often empty after eight, early-bird specials over at five, the air was always full. heavy of cabbage cooked in curry, broccoli in garlic. vanilla chai and chicken soup. thickly sliced eggplant in bean sauce. pan-fried noodles. boiled rice. 
  4. perfectly portioned. apportioned. garnished. gathered. given. 
  5. the restaurant of unfamiliar letters served warmth in a city always cold. tea of familiar flavors always. piping hot.
  6. fiery fish greeted all comers. eyes wide. fins open. tanks full. tables ready. linen napkins freshly washed. neatly tucked. origami swans. perched on linen cloth. 
  7. i’d meet him there. often. we had nowhere else to go. the restaurant our go-to. the back booth, red vinyl, ours. 
  8. she’d smile. her right hand a soft brush in the wind. welcome. her silent sanctuary. predictability her number one priority. 
  9. our eyes on paper. he studied history. i studied english. neither of us clear on the past. or the future. hungry. of the present. partners in consumption.persistence.resistance. our needs differed. our days aligned.
  10. hard ales. distant rails. each of us offspring of challenging trails.
  11. he sought to reform. avoid repetition of past mistakes. i sought to resee. avoid repetition of past tropes. future paths not yet plotted. 
  12. she’d serve.pour.care. in silence. black trousers. cuffed. white blouse. buttoned. anticipated all needs. answered all tears. extra napkins. extra tea. refill. refuel. she’d act without asking. give without taking. 
  13. until the restaurant shut down without notice. we leaned on the glass. the tank gone. all booths empty. cheeks flushed. neither of us knew what to do. the bars off-limits for reasons far more complicated the age. 
  14. i never got to say thank you to the woman who poured the tea.


Jen Schneider is an educator who lives, writes, and works in small spaces throughout Pennsylvania. Recent works include A Collection of Recollections, Invisible Ink, and On Habits & Habitats. She is the 2022-2023 Montgomery County PA Poet Laureate.