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.