Broken glass

by Kenny Mah

I’m in the kitchen, tidying up when my arm knocks a glass bottle onto the floor and shatters it. Broken glass everywhere: large shards, tiny bits the size of a star’s twinkle and the rest like magic dust. Small pools of water; the bottle had been less than half full.

This has happened before: I would swear, get grumpy, sometimes simmer in rage before cleaning the mess up. Disgruntled, unhappy, cursing my clumsiness.

Today I simply grab a broom, a few kitchen towels, some newspaper to wrap the broken glass, and get started. Everything is cleaned in no time at all. In fact, the very act of picking or sweeping up the glass and hunting down any stray bits is meditative. My breath slows, steadies. I was already cleaning up the kitchen, was I not? This is but more of the same. More practice.

When I am done, the kitchen is clean. I make a note to buy a new glass bottle, maybe two. A spare is always nice. I smile as I leave my kitchen.


by Kenny Mah

I walk alone on the pebble beach. For a moment I can’t quite remember where I am. I’ve been traveling by rail across Europe. I think I’m in Scotland now, somewhere farther north. I sit down, my jeans not quite protecting me from the hard pebbles and the cold. I take my notebook out and on every page I write down the names of the cities I’ve stopped at: Milan, Naples, Nice, Montpellier, Barcelona, Paris, London, Edinburgh, Inverness. I’m heading to the Isle of Skye next, I believe. It’d be nice to escape to an island and not worry about the rest of the world. It’d be nice to escape.

I tear out every page with a city name scrawled on it and place each under a pebble. The cities a route, a journey, an attempt at escape. The wind comes (of course, it must, I knew this, didn’t I?) and carries each page away. The pebbles scatter. It starts to rain, a gentle hiss. The distance mists over. I know I best be moving soon but for now I can sit here. There’ll be time enough to chase those cities carried by the wind. The chase will be my escape; it’ll have to do.

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The truth about angels

by Kenny Mah

You are sitting in that small room, almost a vigil for the living and the frail. This woman sleeping in the bed, she is not well. She does not seem to want to recover; you fear she is giving up. Every day passes more slowly than the next, the shafts of sunlight that passes through the windows thinning. She is sleeping, your mother, but she is not sleeping well.

You sit at a corner, away from the bed, away from her. She cannot sleep with someone breathing over her head, she has told you, told you this many times. She does not want you to take hold of her hands, caress them with love, she does not want your attention or your care. She is past caring about the tears that stream down your face for hers have long dried up.

She will not pray with you.

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by Kenny Mah

September 2002: Naples, Italy

This is the most alarmingly tasty slice of pizza I’ve ever had. I’m in a small pizzeria in Naples. I’ve been backpacking all over Europe, eating my way through the continent. It’s the end of summer but you wouldn’t know it here in southern Italy. A day earlier I was sunbathing on the isle of Capri (together with dwindling hordes of German and Swiss tourists greedy for the final rays of the season). The weather was perfect.

A fellow backpacker — a cute and petite web designer from San Francisco — whom I met while rummaging through the ruins of Pompeii had recommended this pizzeria. “It’ll be the best pizza you’ve ever eaten,” she had promised and she was so right.

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My Roti Valentine

by Kenny Mah

“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.”

That was Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Sonnet 43. I wonder if she had to endure a modern Valentine’s Day where the ways that seem to count inevitably include a box of gourmet chocolates, a large bouquet of roses (their number and their colors each with a special meaning that a well-prepared gift-giver should have deciphered and assembled in advance), a glossy manufactured greeting card with an equally manufactured message, allergy-inducing soft toys and sparkling bits of carbon.

All of this tends to be terribly overpriced but who dares channel Scrooge on this special day? Where is the romance? Where is the love?

There should be a simpler way of loving, no? When love works, it ought to be a gentle thing, not an outlandish showcase once a year or a constant barrage of verbal reminders. Love is daily action, and daily practice. Love is a habit and an observance.

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