Saturday, February 26, 2011

Dancing With Words

You have this way with words,
that made me swoon
in tears.

lights of inspiration,
shadows of pain,
dampened spirits,
sweetness of love,
young and hopeful,
grown and wise,
innocent and light,
worn bodies and soul,
with just the lightest roll
of your touch.

into your intimate silver lining discoveries,
starlight stories,
snow filled soliloquies,
resisting but persisting,
musing yet confessing,
without adult supervising,
and inhaling,
the fragrance
of these otherworldly words lingering,
into the stillness of my heart.

turns a corner
from rivers
of hidden tears,
made from zero
to hundreds,
words to look forward to,
even though the occasional sighs
the often down cast eyes
still arrive
to pronounce despair's fierce pulls;
I no longer fear,
but peek out at the world
with brand new shines
that spell understanding,
and hope

please allow
this fumbled salute
to words of fire
that have kindled
into the window of my soul;
every sorrow,
every wound, 
so even ice, snow and shadow,
break free prisons of harrow
weaving kindred spirits,
into that blazing colors of rainbows.

So my dream
tonight is without words,
and visions
for that fairy of evanescence.
Hope is in a glance
for stealing into her essence,
that seals the fate
of an inspiration renaissance.

Dedicated to the group of inspirational writers and blogging connections made in the past few months. Not weaved into the poem but certainly some of the most admirable writers atop this list are:

Mr. London Street
The Baglady
The runaway bride
Happy Frog and I
Nari (who writes "Nari's life")
Bth (who writes "a little light in London")
Light 208 (who writes "Shadows")
Manda (who writes "Memoirs of a Word Nerd")
Maria (who writes "Something about Maria")
the author of "Murmurs"
the author of "Domesticated Bohemian"
and so many more,
please check my blog list for a complete listing,
as my memories are failing.


Wednesday, February 23, 2011


The whirls of the heating vent woke me, it must be nearly five o'clock, the darkest hour before dawn.

I pull myself deeper under the covers. The sheets enveloping me are soft and clean, smelling of lavender soup, dryer sheets and .... 

I turn towards the window and wait.  It's still dark outside too, I can not see the outline of the window before me, though I know it is there.

There is nothing to do but wait, unless I turn on the light and read.  I resist the urge as I find that I am not afraid, though I usually do not sleep in total darkness.  I realize by now that I'm not at home, as nothing is quite the same.

I arrived last night, booking a last minute flight after having debated the "go" or "no go" decision for weeks.  Everything was a blur thereafter, apart from the smell of fried noodles (my favorite) and the sight of smiling faces that still linger.  Though there were too many names to remember any, I managed to inhale most of that delicious late night meal.

Then I crashed onto the guest bed and that was the last thing I remembered.

Now the gray blue of the morning has broken through the gaps in and around the window coverings. I pull them apart to see the face of the rising sun. All red, like a blushing suitor, or an Olympic runner racing to victory. It leaps out, overcoming the horizon, and everything turns brighter by the minute.

I dress and find my way down the stairs. The floor is immaculate, not a single piece of mail or paper, stray shoes from soccer practice or school bags with its content spilling.  Toys are all organized into the play area, but the expansive redwood space beckons.  I feel like cart wheeling.

I step into the vast kitchen, the size of my entire apartment.  Yet not a spoon was out of place, and there are plenty of them to be sure.  The granite shines a warm brown with yellow and gold specs, and the room smells of freshly brewing ... oatmeal?

I turn to see Lin has already gotten up, and is just about to finish mopping the floor.  Oatmeal is cooking on the stove, and a variety of breakfast dishes spread out on the antique black top farm table.  The heating system came on again, blasting out warmer air tinged with lemon polish, honey bread, cinnamon apples, wheat crackers and jasmine tea. 

"Are you hungry?"  She asks with a raised eyebrow. This is how we (Chinese) say "good morning, how are you, did you sleep well..."  we go straight to the heart of the matter.

"Starved."   I was too shy to finish all the food last night, only to find out later it was impolite as the whole thing was prepared just for me.

"Let's eat!"

"What, now?"

It was still awful early, and no one from the six person household is up yet. It seems intrusive to start breakfast without waiting for the others, especially since all I could do last night was eat and go to sleep.

"Why not?  All we do here is eat and sleep.  Those are the best things in life.  Look outside, everything is frozen, what else could we do?"

She has a point, I came to visit her and her family.  I am not here to go sightseeing, shop or do anything important.  Spending time with friends means going with the flow of their habits and customs, at least to me it does.

So we dive into the food, catching up on two years of happenings, that's how long we've not seen each other.  Lin had moved here to Colorado with family from California, where we met and became fast friends from forever ago.

We pick up where we left off right away.  Food is our common passion, and we tend to act like happy teenagers whenever we can get together and munch or feast.  We also share a sarcastic sense of humor. The candies on the table look more like artifacts belonging to the natural history museums than on the dining table.  But we try everything, giggle and make faces at their strange tastes, making gross noises as soon as the other one is biting into something, and invent "scientific" names to the ones that are particularly inspirational in their unusual (ugly) forms.

The sun is up now, lighting up the garden outside the kitchen.  A single blue spruce stand among bare plots of exposed soil with scattered gray rocks. Ice encrusted branches has given up on waving and stood in frozen attentions.

Like this garden, I have been feeling the crushing weight of life lately. This weight has been pushing me beyond the reach of any lightness and cheer.  Even under the full sun, all I could see sometimes are the bareness of the ungrowth, the wintry rock scape and the frozen development of dreams.  I had a few long long-distance talks on the phone with Lin, and she urged me to visit, in her usual charming hospital way for which the southerners, her origin, is well known.  But I still questioned, is she just being "nice"?

In the end I decided it didn't matter.  I decide that I had nothing to lose.  Besides, what's wrong with being nice?

Though the winter journey to a snow country is never easy, I sigh with relief now as I stare out onto the frozen landscapes and into my arrested hopes.  Tomorrow has to worry about itself as this has to be enough for today.  This warmth, from the hardworking heating vents, to the sweet and interesting breakfast, to the familiar closeness in conversations, is filling in a way that is tangible yet unfamiliar.  I let it be, as it floods into me like the morning sunlight flooding through the windows. 

Drip drip, I hear something melting from the inside.  The sound of the beginning of Spring.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Surgical Removal

The lovely HR girl moves through the terminating procedures with practiced precisions, that of a skilled surgeon removing infected tissues - a tumor - from an ailing patient.  In this case, the company (or more precisely its profit growth) being the patient, and me, the tumor.  Or perhaps I am just a tumorous cell in a once healthy division that had outgrown itself, its usefulness that is.

I roam around the halls thinking through my exit strategy while my eyes wander.

The halls are nearly empty, they have been for weeks.  There are the beginnings of spiderwebs dancing in the fading afternoon sunlight,  a dance without the lightness and cheers from the accompanying music or songs.  An eerie quietness grew from emptied and darkened office spaces that were once the source of so much liveliness, banters and spontaneous ideas,  echoing the sigh of terminations but recalling a different page in the story from not too long ago, written by busy feet running to and fro, filled with meetings, chalk talks, lunches, celebrations and bring your kids to work days.  Now all you hear is the sound of that page torn from the book, of jagged edges trying to flap in the remaining stale air and settled dusts, but fail at it.  It was not long before even these final pieces of dusts and papers are swept away by a cleaning crew whose mission was to remove all evidences of what once was.

I field calls and visits from well wishers while packing up a few remaining items.  Two labtops are to be returned.  Bumps and bruises aside, they were the blood line that connected this cell to the rest of the body, once healthy and pumping happily around the clock, until it is no more.  Now they wrap up those half baked dreams, still warm blood and salty sweat into a few thousand documents and programs, tucked neatly into their tiny sleek cores, ready to be shelved somewhere in the supply closet, for good.  I logout, shutdown, and close their lids one final time.

It occurs to me that perhaps I ought to cry.  This place had been like a home to me, sadly many times more so than my real place of residence.  My virtual office accompanied me through ten years and countless number of sleepless nights, early morning conference calls, changes of strategies and several near exhausted melt downs, both for me and some on the team.  But we've failed, at what I am not exactly sure.  Perhaps there is not a failure of how, but what is, where, being the wrong kind of cell, growth and accelerated efforts could be doubly counterproductive and speed you toward the predetermined destination of being surgically removed.

But the salty pricks of tears never arrive. My feelings are so jammed it really is like a seasoning shop has cracked open inside, bitter, sweet, sour and pungent all rushes forward to express itself yet no one gets through for the crowding just blocked the narrowest channel known as emoting at work.   I attempt to send a goodbye note, yet I remember back when I was reading them from others, I'd thought "this would never happen to me" and laughed at the melancholy of their tones.

Take it easy, I'd always reply, not thinking the effect this would have on the departed.  What was I thinking?  Take it easy, on what?

I'd spent my life here measuring myself in the eyes of others.  So I couldn't help doing that one last time today; even though I fully understand the silliness and futility in it.  How will they perceive this note?  If I were reading it as a recipient, high on my corporate chair of security and superiority, what would I get out of it?  Do I want to sound like a loser crying my way out?

I decide then that I do.  More than anything I want to say that even in a place that centers on success and victory, that focuses on progress and milestones, and tolerates no losers, I could still pronounce dignity in failures and rest, maybe even more so than in success, and the difference could just be how it is pronounced.

I finish everything and turn around to look back at the graying building shrouded in the afternoon shadows, the sun has almost set.  I begin the walk away but notice a group carrying boxes walking in, their cars neatly filling up those front spots that had been emptying for weeks.  Their easy chatting and laughter brought life and colors to the concrete everything that surrounds us, so all are taking on the rosy hue of the resting sun, reflecting that vibrant color you find on newborn's cheeks.  They walk in and settle into offices, immediately bringing an end to the hollowed cries of spiderweb dances.

A new group moving in, and thus the beginning of another story to be written with renewed hope and trajectories.  Perhaps it will be a story of triumph this time, I can already see it in the road ahead of them, as clearly I see it in mine, a new beginning that is, as I turn and walk away.

Tears flow then, freely for hours while I sat in the car waiting.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Sick Story

It came so quickly I didn't have time to prepare.  I didn't have enough water, juice or medicine.  I lacked "sick" preparedness.

The fever hit in the middle of the night. I went to bed with a bit of a sore throat, by midnight when I woke up, I was burning like a hot brick on the side of a lit fire place.  Inside, between the space of my muscle and bones, I felt a thousand tiny blades of icicles piercing me with their frozen breaths, cutting me loose from warmth, comfort or strength.  Then puff, I was burning up, hot to the touch on the surface while still practically fogging up from those breaths of the arctic floating through inside just seconds earlier.  Shivering and sweating simultaneously, I shrank into a tight balled fetal position for lack of any other defense.

I tell myself I haven't been sick sick for so long my body is strong.  It would recover in the morning and there is no need for silly medicines.  I let myself drift back to sleep, and amazingly I did.  The next morning, I don't remember how I moved through the routines of getting people ready for where they need to go, but as soon as the house was empty and quiet again, I fell back into deep sleep, like I haven't slept for a hundred years and this was the first chance of catching up.  In a way, it was kind of true.

On the third day I woke up to realize that I was scheduled to take an important exam the next day.  I must phone the examine office or I'd be disqualified.  The days I had slept away started to blur together, turning my brain into jelly and my speech into mush.  I was further discouraged when I found that I was directed to an offshore support center after selecting a dozen numbers according to the computerized prompts.

She greeted me with:

"Hello, my name is Jennifer!"

But her accent gave away her true identity, and her monotone telltale sign of reading from a script.  I persist in telling her, through warped words, congested nose and cracked throat that I could not attend the exam tomorrow, as she could probably derive unmistakeably the authenticity of my condition. In response, she cheerfully read and re-read to me that tomorrow if I didn't show up, it will be considered "no show".

"There will be no exception".

After some struggle, she informed me I shall get myself to a doctor's office and fax the resulting "medical document"  before tomorrow to be considered for any other alternative.  Most likely I'd still be a "no show" until after months of review.

Somewhere in the conversation, I coughed until smoke came out of my lungs, and she simply raised her voice to speak on top of my coughs.

I couldn't come up with a reply.  As I was thinking of something to say, she sharply interrupted my slower than snail thought process:

"Mamm, are you there?  Are you there??  ARE YOU THERE???"

With rapid and increasingly sharper and louder queries.  Then, before I could catch a breath and respond,  she hung up.

In all fairness, the world was moving much faster than I could handle at that point.  I turned my head from left to right, and I found the clock needle has moved significantly from its last position on the face.  I saw creatures and shadows zooming in front of me, with no hope of catching where they were going or what they were doing.  So "Jennifer" in the right mind of an healthy person, must have waited a respectable amount of time, before considering me either having given up or having passed out indefinitely.

In the afternoon I felt slightly more awake so I tried phoning the doctor, only then I remembered I, having been healthy as a horse for years, do not have a doctor I could call.  So I phone the pediatrician, whose number I have memorized.  The cheerful receptionist, sitting somewhere in the local office not more than five minutes from my home, of this I am certain, listened to my story until I finished and asked me to leave a message to the doctor.  I do.  

The doctor phoned back quickly.  "How is the boy?"  She asked me enough questions to determine the boy was OK before saying, "Why aren't you calling *your* doctor?"

I tell her why.  She pauses for a few seconds.  Then she asks me more questions about me and the exam.  "Can't you just talk to them?  They should be able to hear you are sick."

"They won't believe me, they listened to me for a while and hang up."

"What is the fax number for me to send this note?"

I couldn't believe it.  I mean I called with the faint hope that this may happen but I fully expected them to slam the phone in my face before any respectable amount of time has passed and tell me to take my crazy self to an office somewhere.  In fact she does urge me to see a doctor, thinking I may have pneumonia, but not before agreeing to help me, and volunteered to call my mom to come in and help me, despite of my fear for "getting her sick".  She announces:

"You could die from this if you keep this up, not taking care of yourself, not drinking fluids, or eating medicine regularly.  You need to be well!"  She closed sternly before telling me she will call back in an hour to check up on me.

She gave me instructions of which medicine to take, the only I had been using didn't work as well.  She wants to get someone to check on my cough, as it doesn't sound "right".  I feel tears pricking my lids, but I fake losing strength and bid her goodbye.

She check on me twice later that day, satisfied finally  that family have come in to bring me water and medicine more regularly, and all is on the up swing with the recovery track.

In the haze of my sleep, I am oblivious to the fact she must have faxed some note to the exam office, as the first email I saw when I woke up finally from the last bit of fevers, was the office sending me loads of apologies, mentioning they have approved immediately of my "medical emergency" as an exception to the "no show".   They will happily reschedule my exam any time I "felt better".

I cried at the sight of this though I don't know why.  Perhaps being looked after and confined in bed for over a week have softened me, and melted that shield I carried around on "normal" days, caked with too much caffeine, too long a to do list and too much self importance.  Somewhere along the lines, I needed to be sick like I haven't been for years, to slow down every fiber in my being and truly see the color and shapes of all those around me.  The friend who called, the family who came, the doctor who cared. 

Even the offshore support specialist, Jennifer, perhaps her too, is still thinking about me, and learning something about reading off the script.  Of this I am certain.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Jenny On the Side - I

I was seven that year, living in the simpler world of hand me down pants instead of new frocks, radios instead of TVs, door knocks instead of telephones, yet I was still spoiled by a world of affections if not a world of goods.  One day dad took me to the hospital on his bicycle, as my fever had reached 40 degrees Celsius  (104 F) the third time that week. The doctor took one look at my X-ray and sentenced me to a week's stay in the children’s ward, alone. A fate worth than death I thought.

But that was how I met Jenny, who was then only a couple of years older but a head taller.  She walked with her head held high even though her hospital clothes hung loosely over her body, so pale and frail she was you’d think a strong wind might take her away. Though none of that made any difference, as she greeted me with a smile I've never seen before when I was hiding my face under the covers crying, scared of the dark and hurt from being away from home in that cold hospital bed.

The children's  ward was on the fourth floor and our room had ten beds, five on each side of the room against the long walls.  Most of the beds were occupied that night and I heard crying but not the loud screaming kind, just some quiet whimpers you could only hear if you weren't talking or crying yourself, and were listening intently for steps in case somebody was coming to pick you up.  But there were neither footsteps nor unscheduled pickups; instead I heard whimpers that made my heart tighten.  Then all the sobbing sounds dwindled into one, and when I touched my face without thinking I realized it was mine.

The girl next to me turned around and slid off of her bed without much noise and remained quiet until I was curious enough to stop crying to see that she was keeling next to my bed.   

She smiled a toothy grin with a tinge of shyness when she saw me lookup, so sweetly that I couldn't help but wanting to crack a smile also, though I only managed to choke out another round of tears.  She reached out and touched my forehead the way mom always did to make me feel better: "It's OK, little sis.  What do you have?"

“Pneu… pneumonia...” I could hardly finish the word before tears started streaming again. A few coughs escaped and I was a mess of water works all of a sudden.

She smiled again, with relief this time.  "Oh, that is not so bad, you will be better in no time. You won't even have a chance to get to know all the kids here, hehe…”

Her laugh was the sound of a baby bell, a muffled chuckle rolling off the back of her throat. Like her, it didn’t have the kind of silliness girls her age are full of, as a thoughtless giggle would. It developed into a gentle sigh that melted away my fears, just as the moon had finally risen above the thick tree lines and its light giving everything a silvery iridescent.   I stared at her moonlit face and saw a familiar serenity too; one that I thought I had left me behind that morning.  The sound of children crying was fading away as I started telling her about my family.  But soon my eyes grew heavy, my tongue sluggish and I drifted off into a nice dream about going home soon.

The next morning I stayed in bed until the nurse came by to give us a daily check up.  When it was her turn I saw she was skin and bones with her ribs protruding.  Then she turned around and I nearly gasped.  She had large patches of bandages covering her back, and when the nurse opened one to change it, I saw scars that shouldn’t belong there, not with her.  I got scared and ran, joining some of the other kids in the courtyard for a game of songs and hand claps.  But soon my curiosity won out and I came back in to find her lying on the bed resting.

"So what is your name?" I asked as a way of breaking the ice, though I had told her all about my family and my friends by then.

"We don't use names around here. You know how they call you the pneumonia?  That's what everyone goes by."   This was the script they all had been reciting to me.

"But I have a name, and I know you do too.  Can you tell me your name please?"

I looked at her with my eyes pleading, and she sat up with a wry smile and said: "just call me Jenny on the side, because soon you will be out of here and you will forget all about me, just like putting a toy aside when you’ve had enough of it."

I wanted to tell her I only had one toy - a black haired doll since I lived with my parents and I'd never cast her away. But I couldn’t say a word as my chest tightened again, like someone was reaching in and squeezing my heart and lungs shut.  I strained to hold back tears by taking in deep breaths and letting out a heavy sigh.  Jenny didn't look at me again, but said she was tired and needed to take a nap.


In the afternoon, my parents came to see me and brought loads of treats, a rarity even for a sickie as I'd never seen a banana before then and the pint sized cake without frosting was what I had only dreamed of.  I gingerly brought the goodies back shouting "Jenny" all the back, wanting to share them with her, and show her off to my parents at the same time.  What a lovely thing that would be!

But Jenny was nowhere to be found.  It wasn't until dinner when we all returned to our beds that I saw her dragging back, paler and wearier then ever.

"Jenny, guess what?  My parents brought a cake this afternoon. I saved half for you. Where did you go anyway?"

"No save it for yourself.  Not everyone's parents visit this often.  Oh, I went to play with the heart murmur girl from bed #14".

"You did?"

"Don't look at me like that.  I would rather play with you, but I know soon you will be out.  I will have to play with her then so I might as well get used to it."

I couldn't think of anything to say.  Maria, or the heart murmur as they say, was the only other kid our age in that big room, but she was kind of mean. In fact I couldn't stand her.  She acted like a princess and was always trying to get others to "serve" her.  Jenny, the oldest of the younger kids in the room, knew how to handle her but I could tell she didn't enjoy being around Maria either.  I wished then I had a more serious illness so I could have stayed there longer.

That's when it occurred to me I still haven't asked what Jenny had, and she hadn't told me yet either.

"Jenny, what do you have? Will you be here real long, like a month?"

She laughed.  A hearty one this time that made her whole body shook and her head rocked back and forth a while before she stopped and looked at me in the eye.

"I have been here since about a year ago.  I don't know when I will be out, I don't know that I ever will..."

I felt all the air had been sucked out of my lung and my mind went blank for a second.

"Wha.... what do you mean?"  I managed to say.

"I have a heart defect, they have to keep monitor my heart and give me injections everyday or I will die."

It was the first time I had heard the word said out loud to me, especially by a kid roughly my age.  Yet I didn't see any tears, fear, or superstitious gestures as expected.  The only thing I saw was what I would call a calm acceptance on Jenny's face.  It made everything seemed almost OK, even though my mind had become marsh just a moment ago, seeing her like this made it somehow untangled, and I could tell pain from joy again.  The joy of seeing her here, cool as a cucumber and lovely as the evening primrose.  The pain of thinking her gone, cold as that sheet of paper with our names written on it, even though no one would ever read or used them.

There is a first time for everything so that was the first time I felt my heart ached for someone other than myself, for a night and more, as I drifted off into exhausted sleep, thinking and hoping. Hoping and thinking, surely there must be a cure?



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