Samyak Shertok

Unable to go back

to sleep, I listen to the walls

breathe. In the kitchen I open

the pantries one by one

for no reason at all.

Sometimes I find things there

I never knew I had.

Yesterday, for instance, I found Ama

sleeping in her bone

china teacup. Wrapped

in a maroon chhyuba,

even in sleep she carried

her prayer beads

in her rain-bruised hand,

her breath caught

between thumb and finger,

her arms folded arctic wings.

The cup was there

when I was born. Handleless

like one of those first

Chinese tea bowls. The cup

is so white it’s pink. Outside,

a blue heron

sails the kaolin sky,

primary remiges of one wing molted

from years of drinking,

the body tipped to a side

to compensate

for the drunk wing.

I like lifting it

with both hands, she said,

the weight of a filled

cup on my palms.

How many cups of tea

this bowl must have held?

How many times raised

to Ama’s lips?

How many times washed

clean and put away?

If you lift it to the moon

in your window

she opens

her blue wings.

I wanted to ask her:

Now that the body is dream

what do you do when you’re awake?

Do you sing my childhood tales

to the snow leopard cubs?

When was the last time

I touched your cheek?

Are you comfortable there

in that bone?

But she was sleeping,

so I made black cardamom tea

with loose leaves,

poured two cups,

a spoon of wild honey for me,

two for her.

I left the spoon in her cup

the way she likes it,

placed her tea beside the china

she was sleeping in

and closed the pantry.

Ama, did you know

it takes two thousand leaves

to make one pound of tea?

Did you know

when the wind blew a dried leaf

into a pot of boiling water

served to Shen Nung

he drank the first cup of tea?

Did you know

blue herons prefer dead

trees to nest and each year return

to the same tree?

Some nights

I hear an unintelligible

sound coming from your wall.

What can I do

but offer this

with two hands

through the silence

of a filled cup.


about the author