Tuesday, December 28, 2010

To Remember

In my old bedroom
Looking out on a leaning pine,
I stop to rest,
And for a few days
Carve out a time
That is both old and new.

At dinner, a wooden spoon
Scrapes the last bit of rice
Into the blue-patterned bowls,
And I sit with mine
In a way I remember to do
Over the white-tiled table.

Walking with you now
Down streets I know,
I see geese against a deep red sky
In a way I do not remember.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Winter Movement

I cannot help but stare
At the pale gray sky
And in bas relief, those few branches
Tipped with a faraway spring.

There is a moment
When my breathing quickens
As geese pour across the sky.
And clouds break off from clouds.

Before Christmas

I am flying
Towards the full moon of winter
And on the lightest of clouds
I am hurtled
Into a sea
Glittering with the lights
That will lead me home,
To curtains that billow
And the still white walls.

When we are alone,
My mother strings
Yesterday's lights
Over a tree
That is half my size
And the song she sings
I have heard before,
Of birds in twilight,
She tells me now.

I am surprised
That in all these years
I never thought
To ask what it was about.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Winter Light

I can count
On the beams of light
In shapes not taught
In high school geometry
And the way my eyes
Squint at the whitened birch.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Library

In the silence of the morning
Among shelves of well-used books,
I see the few snowflakes fall,
And the brown stalks swaying
With parched winter green.
Once, I had huddled
In musty stacks of unread theses
Over diagrams thick with the cycles
Of carbon and life.
Now, my pen scratches,
And I hear the leafing of pages
Against the tap tap of keyboards
And a well-modulated whisper
Heard above my breathing.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The White Scarf

I can see the white scarf
Swing over her shoulder
And the practiced flick
By her small hand.

Nothing has changed.
She will go back
To the house
With the winter tinsel,
And in the quiet of the night
She will wait for him.

It is the same.
She hears the door,
And the heavy steps
Come closer in the dark,
And his voice,
Thick with glasses emptied
At the corner bar.

Under her scarf
Last night's marks have gone.
She turns and smiles,
I'll be okay, doc.
Thanks as always

Sunday, December 12, 2010


I am slowly sinking
Into a hole
Whose bottom I cannot see,
And on walls that encircle me
My hands grope for answers.

Soft against the sky,
I see the outlines of a tree,
One familiar to me
In a past life
That was only yesterday.

In the approaching twilight,
My tree inclines its silver branches
Towards my reaching hands.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Beam of Light

My morning has gone
Leaving behind
Only the leaves
In a cup
Once full of tea.
I take my cue and sit
In the unshuttered light
Of a cold day.
The whir from the wash
Is my companion
Now that the cats
Have fled
To the far-flung warmth
Of our heated house.
Sitting there
For what seems like seconds
I am carried
On my soft breathing
Pausing to notice
When a beam of light
Smiles on my lap.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Canadian Geese Sighting on a Monday

I had the Monday morning thoughts
Of patients and their stories,
Each pair sitting side by side
In limbo
Waiting for its proper label.

I left the warmth
Of my mildly dented Corolla
For the unremitting gray
Of the clinic's parking lot.

With winter wrappings close about me,
I heard a ragged chorus,
Sustained through the sky,
And saw a seamless procession
Carried on breezes not felt below
As it sang for the first time.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The First Snowfall

With the first snowfall
My cardinal returns.
He alights on his tree
Out of an instinct
I could only guess at.
He stays awhile,
Testing each thin limb,
Half-hoary in sunlight,
Settling on the one
Unbowed by his weight.
I look up
To see his absence,
And in his wake,
The only red I see
Is the stop sign
On the street corner.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Childhood Home

I remember the wide steps
And the cold, lead railing
Of an indeterminate gray,
And blue painted walls that never peeled.
Many nights now I climb the stairs,
Alone in the dusk
Of the quiet house.
Walking the stairs
I am neither the child
Nor who I now claim to be.
Suspended always in mid flight,
With the threshold of my bedroom
Just around the corner
It is now time to get up for work.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Morning

On browned wax paper warm granola crackles
With a scent of chai cupped in my hands
And the feeling of ease I could grow into,
Waking up late
With the full light of day as my only alarm,
Abetted by two taps from a gray paw.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Fallen Leaves

If I were to close my eyes,
I would see the leaves of autumn,
Upright on their stems and side by side
Like a phalanx of fallen heroes.
Myrmidons of the season,
You appeared,
Or so it seemed,
One morning when I was not looking,
Fringing the limbs of the maple
Like the rime of an old man's beard.
When I finally took notice,
There you were at my feet
In the darkness of an afternoon
When squirrels scratched their way home.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Ode to a Clementine

I take a clementine in my hand
From its place in the mesh bag with the others.

How many times in past Novembers
In the first chill with the few leaves remaining on the neighbor's maple,
Have I marveled anew
At the first clementine in my hand?

Its porous skin
Gliding through my fingers
As peel falls away
And the fragrance of sun and orchards
Stays for the moment in my kitchen.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Hiawatha

Squat and fleeting farmhouses
Across the window of a moving train.
They are markers of a bygone era,
Of a past that was not mine.
In a depot of a town
Between the city I live in and another,
Molded wood of a stationhouse
Has given way to masonry
And effacing in my mind
Urban legends of molded wood.
In the ensuing hour,
When sights and anticipation meet
In the Quiet Car of the train,
I pass the sedge of wind-blown pastures,
Then well-tended lawns in late November.
Soon, rusted factories
In an unscrubbed part of the city
Come into view with its
Imagined smell of smoke.
I rub my eyes of sleep,
Looking up into the gleam of glass
And its reflection below
In the river of life.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

My Neighbor's Tree

How ageless you are,
Your limbs in four seasons
I see ever tireless,
Whether well-dressed
In a dappling of green,
Or more often than not,
Half-doffed and proud.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


A flutter of green.
Faded, single leaf
Then spray of gold,
Carried on a wind,
Skimming my hair.
The morning has gone,
And with it
Those patients
Who one by one
Have sat in the evened-out light
Of my examining room.
A chart has closed,
And plan of action
Made official
In bold typescript.
Now in the open
Of a midday walk,
I can see the words
Already spoken
Between us,
My patient and me.
My words removed
His bated breath.
In a hushed corner,
Surety was tendered,
An occasion
Rare enough
In the well-lit room.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Seventeen Years Later

Hours passed
Into teacups.
The flecked foam
From our chai
Lapped and ebbed
In oversized cups.
I have not seen my friend
For many years,
A realization
Felt more than thought
At a corner table,
In a press
Of coats and bags.
Intervening years
Stacked like books,
And the glancing thoughts
Of those past times
I had scribbled down
On sheets now crumpled
To slide between
Thick leather tomes.
I retrieved notes
That were not forgotten,
Our chuckles ringing
Over drained cups
Of the too sweet chai.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Dream About Tea II

Two cacti stand sentry,
Spines gently bristling
Along hazy windows.

The sunlight is in our eyes,
And in the leaves
That dance and skim
On a square table between us.

Green tea leaves
In my glass mug
Unfurl like
So many sails
On the calm
Of an open sea.

Sniffles, congestion
Of yet another fall cold
Are easily forgotten
In the ample sunlight
Of Dream About Tea.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Meditating on a Stormy Afternoon

As I sit
Stockinged feet
On a cushion,
I am windblown
Through the open window.

The wind rushes by,
And the slight birch bows
Jerking its quiet leaves
Into a mad jig.

My gaze settles
On a patch of sunlight,
And I breathe in the coolness
Of an early afternoon.

Fragments of a thought
Dilate and grow.
They scurry by
Like the squirrels
I see darting
Over the gap
Of the still unmended fence.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Another Season

On a wet fall day,
A slow moving stream
On blackened concrete
Enfolds in its current
Wayward leaves
Of blighted browns and rare russet.

As I tramp under a maple,
I remember
Other wet seasons
I have known

When banana trees
Arched into grey skies,
Holding tightly
Those familiar leaves
Forever green
In my young eyes.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Wooden Bird

Double windows
With their white sashes raised,
Pouring light on the faded rug.

My eyes squint
While I hold a bird
With stuck-on feathers
And a plaited breast.

My hands guide
Its flapping pinions,
Igniting leaps from my dozing cats.

Pirouettes in sunlight
And flashes of honed claws
Scatter the feathers
Like leaves by a wind.

Amid the rustle of still-green leaves,
A lone sparrow chirps on its hopping legs,
Not knowing that on the other side,
A cat holds a quill between his teeth.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Only in a Dream

Earthen mug of coffee,
Floating in the darkness
Of a dream I had.

From a hazy corner,
My eyes caught
A liquid strangely inky
To a tea drinker like me.

Only a moment elapsed,
Timeless in a dream,
When hot coffee splashed on my lips,
I sprung forward on cold sheets,
To find your hand in mine.

Friday, October 15, 2010

On The Shadow of Sirius

I am sad to leave you,
My companion for all these weeks.
Over your words I linger
On my lips and in my mind.
Soft moments from your past,
Present in our here and now.
A quiet leaf falling,
A flurry of crimson in mid air.
The glancing light on the sill,
Departing when I look away.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Pho U

In a nondescript strip mall, we saw Pho U. We were hungry and had already passed many fast food places, tempted by their convenience and familiarity. But we soldiered on in the light of a
departing dusk, E driving, while my eyes avidly searched for novelty along the road. We were in Chicago's western suburbs, their uniformity of chain stores and restaurants were mind-numbing.
Barely lighted with flickering streetlamps, Pho U stood next to an Uzbekistani restaurant. From the car, I could see the bustle and lights inside Pho U. Next door, in contrast, was the forlorn formality of white lace linens in an empty dining room.
We soon joined the bright bustle in what turned out to be a Vietnamese-Korean hybrid of an eatery. Bui Go Ki shared menu space with a handful of pho dishes.
The tables around us quickly filled up with Korean-Americans. The one next to us ordered a bevy of deep-fried appetizers, which smelled awfully good despite their unrecognizability as food products. Large bowls of steaming pho soon followed amidst conversations in Korean. I strained in vain to hear Vietnamese spoken in the restaurant.
We ordered pho ourselves. Mine came with a trove of seafood: plump shrimp, squid, clams and mussels still in their shells, and porcelain-hued fish cakes. The beef broth was robust, made sweet with fresh mint leaves and cilantro which came on the side.
We ate as a pouty tween from the next table engaged in cold war antics with her younger brother.
We shared a pot of green tea, poured into square-mouthed teacups; the tea, smoky like hay, and vegetal, was much like the tea I've drank in Vietnam.
The cold war antics between the kids came to a close, replaced by new activity to and from the front door, quick raps on its glass panes, and faces contorted in mutual sibling disdain made at each other.
I finished my pho and was full, but made room for dessert nevertheless: mini cheesecakes seemed too good to pass up. Soon, our waitress returned with an oblong tray arrayed with bite-sized pieces of different flavored cheesecakes. The piece de resistance, however, were the Craisins garnishing the plate.
Sweet cream cheese paired nicely with cups of green tea. We finished our meal, a cross-pollination of cuisines, as the overhead TV announced the score of the Packers' game.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Intruder

A leaf whirls gently through the whistling breeze
Pillowed by the light of noon
Along its downward flight.
From the distance, I hear
A leaf-blower bray.
It enters the scrim of sweet fall songs
As the golden leaf comes to its rest.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Patient

The minutes filled with sounds that should have been so familiar
As I sat behind a closed door and heard
A patient's chart dropped into its plastic holder;
Footfalls muffled on the tan carpeting,
Paired with a voice of soothing efficiency.
I shivered in a thin white gown, faded with blue squares
And waited.
My eyes traced a row of glass jars filled with gauzes,
And sticks tipped with cotton.
The minutes slowly passed
On the other side of a white coat.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Koicha (Thick Matcha)

The gulps of wet grass are warm on my throat.
The liquor of koicha is a deep green against my pale earthen bowl.
I breathe in deeply
And taste the umami that is sweetly bitter
Like the brief and faded summer.
Skeins in my mind unwind a little,
Made rheumy by an early fall cold.
The sunlight inside wavers in patches.
Its mirror is the soft shudder of leaves
Beyond the windows.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Matcha in October

October comes,
And the leaves turn a golden russet.
The mail truck drives
Through a flutter of breezes.
Inside, gray wool worn until soft,
Brushes across my cheeks,
Its slight weight on my shoulders.
As I hold the warm bowl of tea
And bring the first sip to my lips,
You lie conch-like across my lap.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Hungry Squirrel

Placid, he rests on my lap.
Our eyes closed in the afternoon sun.
We hear a rustle, like rubbed pebbles, at the window.
With a flash of perked ears, my cat is on the ground.
Along the thin screen, a scrim of his world,
He follows a waving squirrel's tail.
A lone red berry cupped in tan paws.
The ruby orb picked for a late summer nosh.
With each jerk of the head, the squirrel chomps and bobs,
Soon looking down on bare, thin paws.
With a bound, the squirrel scurries away.
My black cat turns and comes to me.
O feline, your nature eludes me still.
Even now, as you softly purr on my sleeve.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Nap

I blink and see sunlight.
Dully green, the pendant vine leaves have turned lucent.
Each leaf shot through with light like a membrane.
My eyelids flicker in the afternoon sun.
Light and shadow,
And still the leaves rustle.
They are wavelets across my half-sleep mind.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Cardinal

I alight on you
If only for a second.
My familiar tree,
spilling over the wayward white fence.
I come to you,
To your swaying leaves
On branches ready to receive me.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A Tea Tasting

Deep into summer and notwithstanding the bounty of Michigan blueberries around here, I have not made one clafoutis this year. By this time last summer, I was churning them out and eating them with abandon. I'd devour this dish as it came out of the oven, still steaming and scalding, and have it cold for breakfast the next day. It was my fruity strata, a sweet take on this originally savoury dish.
So I remedied this clafoutis-less situation, and with midnight-blue stains on my fingers, a piping hot blueberry clafoutis soon emerged from the oven to accompany a tea tasting of Silver Needles.
Side by side, I brewed the Fuding Silver Needles and the Zhenghe Silver Needles.

Each yielded a straw-colored liquor, the Fuding more deeply shaded.
I sipped from each cup and let the liquor linger in my mouth. The differences between the two teas were subtle. The Zhenghe was roundly honeyed, without a jarring note. In the Fuding, however, I detected an artichoke-y flavor, a not unpleasant puckering in its otherwise sweet nature.
With the duel between the Silver Needles satisfactorily at an end, I dug into my slice of the clafoutis.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Rex

Her baby hand is in her mother's.
They cross the street, the traffic a blur
Of raucousness and confusion.
But the hand is soft and warm.
It keeps the traffic away.
In the cool of the movie house they sit side by side.
The child's hair is smoothly shiny.
Her mother removes her sunglasses,
Puts it away in her purse.
Rapt and secure, the child sits small.
She hears her mother's even breathing
As the screen jumps up and down.
The moments will be lost later,
But she stretches them into eternity.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Fort Chaffee, 1975

I ran after them,
The other children who looked like me.
We ran under the night sky lit with stars,
Under a canopy that stretched on forever.
I felt the breeze in the open air
With the giant movie screen.
I saw figures grouped on tufts of grass in the dirt field.
Their heads inclined upwards at the moving pictures.
I did not know then
Watching Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,
Where I would go next.
I followed the other children,
Leaping through the night air
As we passed the barracks and the commissary to our homes.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Paris, 1983

In my hands is a pain aux raisins,
The wax paper sticky and sweet.
I climb the darkened staircase.
The door opens to a midday of newspapers
On a dining room table.
A lull in a week day.
My mother tongue smiles at me.
I hear French, staccato and harsh,
And the fracturing of English.
I am at home away from home.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Smokey: A Diptych

Sinuosity: his back arches.
His eyes dart, his paws adjust.
Pounce, and there's a wriggle on my knee.
He purrs his ineffable tremolo.
His licks are pink-tongued and salty.
Spent, with half-closed eyes,
He falls asleep on my lap.

And from my francophone friend:

Lazybones Monster.
Mushroom Magic.
Such pet names do not touch your essence, O pet.
A wisp of evanescent tenderness.
By day, asleep in your private shaft of sun,
Baby nostrils barely moving.
Prowler and killer by night,
Loping with steely nonchalance.
"Lazy" only to those who do not notice your
Quick green eyes that follow a shadow or stray mote of dust.
"Magic" only to those ignorant of instincts:
The moods of your nightly hunts,
Your paw on my cheek at dawn.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Storm: A Story

She still walks with a limp although I no longer see her with a cane. It's been three years since her back surgery, but I remember well the day she came to see me for the problem. She was a patient whom I've known for a long time although I rarely saw her. When I did, it was often for something serious, when she couldn't ignore the problem any longer.

I saw that she was unable to rise from her chair without pushing herself forward, each hand clutching an armrest. It had been this way for days, she said. Her legs felt weak and numb, her balance unsteady. At home, she'd walk upstairs, holding onto the banister and suddenly watch her legs crumple beneath her.

I helped her to the examining table. Her arms and legs were visibly weak, she lurched while holding on to my arms. After I finished examining her, I reviewed my concerns with her: she needed an MRI of her back right away - she was facing imminent quadriplegia.

Several days later, she had urgent back surgery to relieve the narrowing spinal canal that was pressing on her spinal cord. I'd see her several times a year after that. Initially, her husband whom I had met but once, came along to her appointments, pushing her in a wheelchair. Months later, she came alone, moving down the hallway with a four-wheeled walker, her steps halting but resolute.

Now, she is in her chair, upright, and her smile is genial but wry. She knows that I will ask her if she has stopped smoking, if she has cut back on the sodas to get her weight down. She prepares herself to be truthful.

I ask her how she fared during the recent storm, the one that knocked out power lines, flooded the city streets and basements.

She shakes her head and looks at me ruefully. She had watched the events unfold on TV as they were happening in other parts of the city. Then, she looked out her window and saw the rain pouring onto her lawn. Minutes later, her son cried out from the basement: water was cascading through their windows, onto their sofa and carpeting. Mother and son looked on silently as the water filled up their basement.

She recounts her story with animation. There is more work to do, she says. They are discarding most of the contents of their basement and have gone through what could be salvaged with buckets of bleach and water.

She no longer has her stationary bike to ride daily, it's waterlogged alongside the washer and dryer. But she'll walk in her neighborhood for exercise, she says.

Her voice is unwavering when she speaks. I'm down to half a pack a day. I'll quit soon.

We say goodbye, and she easily rises from her chair to leave.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Storm

Yellow-tongued and reflected in windows.
Tapers of wax in a darkened kitchen.
We sit at the window, a rumble, a flash.
Silver-rimmed, a slash in the sky.
Rain in sheets, the din is steady.
I jolt in my seat and clasp my mug.

Camellia sinensis, where are your fronds?
Alas, no hot liquor brushes my lips.
Instead, I drink the tepid milk and go off to bed.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Blueberries in the Afternoon

Heat-heavy, a bowl of blueberries between us.
Fingers dipping simultaneously, tips pressing close on blue.
Water-moistened, the berries a deep midnight hue.
Sweetness in my mouth.
A flitting red, then lush green.
A cardinal alights, his plume in the sun.

And by a francophone friend:

Nous avons mange tous les bleuets.
C'est un repas qui n'a pour objet
Que de proclamer la verite de l'ete.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

A Reverie

Under the birch tree I sat. Its tendrils of leaves shaded me in the middle of a blindingly sunny field, up the hill from my office. I was playing hooky during a ten minute wait between patients.

I'd turned away from my computer screen, saw the flawless blue sky through the half-open blinds, and easily turned my steps towards the front door. With a mug of lotus tea in one hand and my beeper in the other, I walked up the hill.

Here, the sound of cars in the parking lot was muffled, my figure sheltered from view. I drank my tea on the grass and squinted at the oblong strips of sky peeking through the birch.

My mind wandered. Door County sour cherries, recently pitted and now frozen in a large ziploc bag at home. I'd think about them often, prodded by their appearance when I open the freezer, feeling the blast of cold on my face.

Shiny red and tangy when I'd plopped one into my mouth, I had to remind myself to stop eating them as they were destined for another purpose. Pits slickly dropping onto the bottom of a mason jar when I inaugurated the cherry pitter brought back from a roadside stand in Door County weeks ago -along with the pint of sour cherries.

I'd make a cherry crisp, crumbly with oats, piquant with cardamon. The juices would bubble on the edges as I'd take a peek in the oven, impatient for that first slice.

Our green tea (Lung Ching or sencha) would brew patiently on the side, the cats limply sleeping on cool tiles.

The beeper tugged me back to the present, and I walked down the hill, the mug empty of tea.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Tung Ting, Take Me Away

Plaster dust hangs in the air. The thick motes tickle my nostrils, drawing sneezes, watering eyes.

The sound of boots stamping up the stairs. A workman with an armful of tiles trudges in while the cats scatter.

A pair of green phosphorescences peers out from a sheath of fur. Crouched behind an armchair, his ears stand ramrod.

I go to my nook, my lair in the shade. I sit with a gaiwan of oolong, my prized Tung Ting from Taiwan.

The tea is light. The floral essence warms my palate. I close my eyes and summon up the peak of Tung Ting Mountain, the lush tea-gardens in its shadow. Thud, thud -the hammering upstairs fades away.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Summer in Door County

The three little sparrows chirped maniacally at my feet. A bit of apple pulp on the ground drew them near me. They hopped, pecked at the fruit, alighted onto my table, and then flew into the canopy of a nearby hemlock. Overhead, the chirps continued.

Occasionally, one would dart out, followed by his companion. Then there was a fluttering of wings as a mid-air melee broke out. Unscathed, they flitted away and I turned back to my tea.

The cup of chai was sweet in a cloying way, the black tea base barely detected in the liquor. My heart had sunk when I saw the barista pour a dark, thick liquid from a cardboard carton into my cup. This brown syrup flowed generously, topped with frothed and crested milk.

I took several sips and put the chai to the side. As intense as my sweet tooth may be where desserts are concerned, I like my tea unadorned with sweeteners. This is especially so in the case of chai, its blend of spices already a heady melange of aromas and flavors, benefitting little from the addition of anything else.

The cheeps, the chirps of birds, the quaking aspens, their leaves like wind chimes in the breeze. We sat amidst treetops, our balcony an eyrie overlooking the lake.

Light blue, defined in the distance, the lake became blurred as the fog set in, sky and water gradually merging.

A pot of Assam, another a tisane redolent with plump raspberries, and finally, a pot of homemade chai. We drank the cups of tea in our eyrie, watching the fog clear, the song of birds in our midst.