heat

in the seventh month, when the heat is dreadful

[Annual flowers] The wishbone flower is sometimes called the clown flower for its vivid colors. The flowers resemble tiny snapdragons, mouths open wide and showing their delicate throats. 

The heat can be taxing on the larkspur which will begin to go brown and fade when it gets too hot. In the cooler months, the blue larkspur spikes clustered together can bring considerable delight. 

You may have trouble finding amaranth or, as it is more commonly known, love-lies-bleeding. You may have to start them from seeds, sown directly into the soil.  

Beautiful moonflower will grow like a vine along a stake if you train it carefully. In the cool of the evening, the bright white flowers unfurl and stay open like that - wide, white, fragrant - until morning. 

In the seventh month when the heat is dreadful, the fans run all day and all night and it is delightful to wake on moonlit nights and lie there looking out. Dark nights too are delightful, and as for the sight of the moon at dawn, words cannot describe the loveliness.

Picture her lying on the unmade bed, her dark hair spread out across the pillow, the sheets rumpled and white across her brown skin. The window is open. The curtain blows in at the slightest breeze. It is warm even at dawn with the moon still visible. 

Her lover has already left. She sleeps in a shift of yellow gossamer-silk. Beneath this, thin silk trousers, their strings left trailing, undone. 

Now picture a man, standing nearby. He is dressed in a grey shirt with small white buttons and dark green trousers that sit low on his hips. His hair is uncombed and there are streak of gray. He is on his way home, distracted by memories of his own evening and of the long brown arms of the woman he held while her hair, smelling of lilac and cut grass, spilled over him. 

As he passes the open window of the woman, this woman, a woman whose hair he has also held in his hands, its scent more like charred embers, he sees the curtains open and blowing in the soft breeze. He peeks in to see her stretched there on the white sheets. He finds the door unlocked, lets himself in. 

Sensing his presence, she opens her eyes and sees him standing by the bed. She has not seen him in many months. She is not disturbed by his being there, but she is vexed that he has interrupted this particular morning’s sleep. 

“Only a very special evening would have you sleeping this late,” he says and he comes to her bed and sits perched on its edge. His boldness is stirring. 

“I am merely sleeping off my anger at a man who leaves before the dew is gone.”

They exchange words like this for a time and their banter is not without its charms. As they speak, he edges closer. Although she does not move away from him, she grows anxious, feels a flutter in her chest. Then, it is she who moves toward him, in a manner that is barely perceptible. And they carry on like this as the sky grows lighter and at last the sun is on the very verge of rising. 

He rises. Soon, he will speak to the woman in whose lilac-scented hair he had pressed his face only hours before. He thinks of what he will say to her, what moments of the evening he will relive and as he wanders back to the street, he finds himself wondering, in a somewhat bemused way, whether another man has similarly been visiting her bed, perching himself there in the space he had just left. 

[Flowering trees] The fig tree thrives in full sun. It needs to be kept warm for its fruits to ripen. 

The white mulberry tree loves sun and needs plenty of space around it. It is hearty and can provide shelter from the wind. The fruit is purple and often abundant and can be used to make a lovely wine. 

The leaves of the flowering pear tree turn a deep red in late fall and in the heat of the summer, the leaves are glossy and green. But it is the clusters of tiny white flowers with their perfectly rounded petals, delicately perfumed, in the early spring that truly can make you gasp with delight. 

satisfaction

The girl steps off the plane and into the arms of her waiting mother.

I wake in the night and scribble this sentence on a scrap of paper by the bed. In the morning, it is difficult to decipher, words bleeding into words. The girl steps off the plane and into the arms of her waiting mother. Hardly an idea – a placeholder where an idea might come. A gesture toward the beginning of something. 

For a summer, I worked at a café behind a counter that was so high, I could barely see over it. People would saunter in and stand there, looking up at the chalkboard menu and when I drew myself up on tiptoe, asked to take their orders, it would startle them to see my head there, disembodied, floating.

I would pepper them with questions about their sandwiches and accompaniments, checking off boxes and circling things on my pre-printed notepad. Cheese – cheddar. Red onions – light. Potato salad. Pickle – NO.

The men I worked with were tall. They worked the slicing machines, carried things back and forth, made the sandwiches, the soup. There were three of them, and me at the register. My favorite was J. He hung his motorcycle helmet on a hook near the back door each morning and one afternoon, when it was slow, he took us all outside to admire his bike. I had no idea, really, what I was looking at, so made what I believed to be the appropriate noises. He invited me out. I said, sure. Why not?

We spent a better part of the summer together, riding around. We rode out to Sakonnet, the vineyard there, made our way back so slowly, stopping at all the roadside stands for raspberries and cheese and honey. That night, we prepared the meal together in his apartment. After coffees, after it was clear that the evening was going one way and not another, I walked home alone in the dark, the leftover raspberries tucked into my bag. He had wrapped them in a napkin, and then in a piece of butcher paper. When I got home, opened the packet, they had all been crushed. I stood there in my kitchen beneath the light of a solitary bare bulb. With one foot on the pedal of the trash can to hold the lid open, I lapped at the raspberry pulp until it was gone, dropped the napkin in the trash, and went to bed.

I landed in Seoul at night, but even in the dark, the heat was crushing. I took a taxi to the school dormitory, our accommodations. I was greeted by the two women who would remain with us for the duration of our stay. They made me tea and spicy instant noodles in a styrofoam cup and stayed with me in the lounge there, while I ate. When I was done, one of them handed me a packet of butter cookies and led me to my room. She gave me a folder with the next day’s itinerary. She squeezed my arm and said goodnight. Said: “We are so happy that you are here.”

In the morning, more heat. It settled into the skin, spreading. Sitting on the low wall in front of the dorms, we fanned ourselves with our folders. Someone said, “You know, that only makes you hotter,” and we glared at him until he wandered off.

We organized ourselves loosely by age. The youngest among us grouped together, and the oldest. As the days piled up, we broke off into smaller groups of three and four, dosing love gradually, a cautious titration.

Fragility became a kind of currency among us. There – united by a common sadness, we distinguished ourselves by degree – how old we had been at the time of separation, how many homes we had been placed in, how much information we had about our pasts. I found myself squarely in the middle-ground – not wholly one thing or another – a familiar landscape, one to which I had grown accustomed.

This morning, for reasons I cannot explain, it seems important to me to put the newspaper back into its blue plastic sleeve to carry it home from the café where we have breakfast, the boys and me. I roll it up – all the sections that had been unfolded and refolded – and try to slide it all back into the bag. Halfway through this exercise, I wonder why I had begun this at all, since really, we could carry it home in a folded stack, and as I am thinking this, the sharp corner of a particularly thick section (national? arts?) tears through the thin plastic. My son is standing by the table, his coat and hat on, waiting. I am positioned out into the space between my table and the next with this project on my lap, and between the two of us, we are effectively obstructing passage. But there are only inches to go. In my peripheral vision, I can see the bus boy approaching to clear our table, but I do not look up, do not let him pass. I stay there, my head down, and keep working at it – tugging and turning – until finally, it is done. As I walk home with the thing tucked under my arm – all tight and snug like a fat sausage in its casing, I realize that I have not felt such a sense of satisfaction – simple, self-contained, uncomplicated – in some time.

The girl steps off the plane and into the arms of her waiting mother.

The line – this one imperfect line – follows me around all day – from the café to the grocery story to the desk facing the window, where I sit, and try to make sense of it. To the kitchen sink (again, dishes) to the laundry room and back.

I imagine the plane – the enormity of it as it makes its lumbering descent into Gimpo. And the girl small against it as she disembarks, follows the carpeted path to the gate. Crossing the threshold from the walkway into the airport, her motions fluid, uninterrupted, she walks on – down the stairs, past the baggage carousels, the sounds they make – low and mournful. She continues on toward the woman, who is standing near a row of chairs. The woman holds a sign with the girl’s name printed on it. The girl walks toward her and when the woman sees her, she lets the sign drop to the floor, raises her arms up and opens them wide. Her mouth falls open, too. She holds her arms so wide apart, it seems as though she might herself be preparing for flight. And then the girl sees her, spreads her own arms open, breaks into a run.