Succulent

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Photo Credit:  Jamie Street

The sense of taste

Her experiments on video.

When I visited her recently, senses she showed me

Something sweet in the mouth

Her face lights up ecstatically and her lips pucker as if to suck

gags, and shudders – makes the gesture for “stop.”

Introduced to the “tongue map,”

she herself was a girl.

She perceived taste on the tongue:

Sweet at the tip, salty at the back

She gave sugar and invited it.

The words in the poem above have been found in the article “Beyond Taste Buds: The Science of Delicious” by David Owen

Julie Mennella, a biologist who studies the sense of taste in babies and toddlers, often records her experiments on video. When I visited her recently at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, she showed me a video of a baby in a high chair being fed something sweet by her mother. Almost as soon as the spoon is in the baby’s mouth, her face lights up ecstatically, and her lips pucker as if to suck. Then Mennella showed me another video, of a different baby being given his first taste of broccoli, which, like many green vegetables, has a mildly bitter taste. The baby grimaces, gags, and shudders. He pounds the tray of his high chair. He makes the sign language gesture for “stop.”.

Almost 25 years ago my wife introduced our daughter’s Brownie troop to the “tongue map,” which she’d learned about in a cookbook when she herself was a girl. Each of the basic tastes, she explained, is perceived by taste buds in a unique region on the tongue: sweet at the tip, salty and sour at the sides, bitter at the back. She gave the girls Q-tips and bowls of salt water, sugar water, and other liquids, and invited them to prove it to themselves.

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Small Screen

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Photo Credit:  Tracy Thomas

Let me get retro, let go of the present – drop back to the past

to the time when things were on tape.  Cue it up, maybe fast

forward, rewind – there we go.  Think of the shows …

A-Team, not Ed Sheeran, but Mr. T.  “V” meant blows

against rat eating aliens, not Viagra. Dallas and J.R.

made it cool to like the Cowboys.  Admiring a fast car

and hot legs on Daisy Dukes of Hazzard and everything

essential can be easily made by MacGuyver and a coil spring.

Get fashion advice from Miami Vice, tapping a jukebox

like the Fonz, being impressed by the way KITT talks.

You didn’t need a flat screen, just a pair of rabbit ears,

or if you’re lucky a black box.  Skip ahead tens of years –

and they’ll all get remade for the big screen,

Michael Bay’ed up like digital caffeine.

 

Pure

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Photo Credit:  Christine Makhlouf

Pure.  As a child, the idea of snow, captivated my imagination.    No, not Snow, the “Informer” white reggae guy or a euphemism for “pure” cocaine.  I’m taking about the stuff that became synonymous in my mind with Christmas and marshmallows floating in hot cocoa.  Now here’s the funny part … as a kid living in Hawaii, we never had snow.  Nope – miles and miles of crystal clear Pacific Ocean, yes, I did have just a short walk away from my home, but nothing even close to the snow that I longed for watching Winter specials on television.  Snow just looked so fluffy and soft, just like clouds or vanilla cotton candy.  Gazing at calendars hung on my family’s walls that had photographs of mountaintops covered in what seemed to be an endless marshmallow glacier layer.  Snow was the stuff of dreams – an escape for a local boy from the tropical heat that made the Hawaiian islands so welcoming to mainland visitors during the winter months.   However, my concept of snow was faulty because my youthful mind didn’t make the connection yet between water and snow.  As an adolescent, I enjoyed going to the only ice skating rink on Oahu – Ice Palace.  To my amazement I thought I saw what looked like snow forming as skates would scrape off the top layer of the ice onto the sides.  I picked it up in my fingers, but it melted so quickly and just felt cold and not soft at all.  I heard the other kids refer to this as “snow,” but I was adamant that real snow was not like this at all. Another example of my disconnect between snow and the element of water is the ever popular “snow cones,” which we do not have here in Hawaii.  We call it “shave ice” because that’s literally what it is … shaved ice.  It would take me eighteen years to finally see the natural phenomenon known as snow when I visited family in Oklahoma during the Christmas break.  You could imagine the anticipation – the wonder as I stepped off a plane into freezing weather.  I was mesmerized by the fact that icicles formed naturally on barren trees – instead of having to fling silver strips of foiled string as a representation.  I couldn’t wait to touch snow and I was told that it would snow overnight.  I couldn’t really sleep.  The next morning I went out of the door and saw remnants of what seemed like snow and in my fingers felt like the same stuff in an ice skating rink in Hawaii.  I looked around the neighborhood and this idea of something pure and beautiful, was tainted with the presence of humanity.  Dirty snow.  I asked my aunt if this was really snow.  I didn’t want to accept the confirmation.  Needless to say, I was sorely disappointed with snow.  Maybe it was just the buildup of years of dreaming.  But the story doesn’t end there.  A few months ago, in Utah, I happened to encounter snow again.  Yes, I saw the layers thick among the mountaintops – but I didn’t get to go there.  Instead it was a simple evening grocery run, just stepping out the door and seeing little wisps of snow start to fall to the ground.  It picked up as a flurry and I could feel what felt like soft – then wet – almost like invisible kisses against my skin.  A light coat of snow covered the shrubs, cars, even the outdoor store trash cans … and in that moment right after the snow fell where it was untouched and pristine it made sense.  This was snow I always imagined.  I began to smile and transferred my joy into a smiley face on a white snow blanket on a red Target trash can.  It began to warm up after I picked up the items I needed from Target.  The snow began to melt again – transforming and then disappearing like a magic pumpkin from a fairy tale.  It never snowed again during my visit, but that one experience – the purity of that moment – made me believe once again.

Not Perfect

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Photo Credit:  Vladimir Chuchadeev

There once was a builder – his name will be unspoken,

Who loved fixing buildings that were broken.

But however he tried

He couldn’t patch up a side

And that’s why the wall will always be open.

Anonymity

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Photo Credit: Gilles Lambert

The phone in his hand glowed with an incoming message.  Are you there?  He didn’t recognize the number of the sender, but the fact that the text was spelled out with proper punctuation and not in the shorthand of SMS let him know that the individual was most likely an adult.  His hands slid across the surface of the phone.  Who is this? Hopefully the reply would provide the answers he was looking for.  Minutes passed.  The bright glow of his screen soon faded to black, just as dark as the shadows that are draped across his body.  Soon it lit up again.  Please forgive me.  The man lowered to his seat quietly in confusion.  Forgive?  Forgive what?  He was prompted to send the questions in his mind right away, but stopped.  He still didn’t know who this person was.  Should he continue this conversation without knowing the identity of the person on the other end?  Maybe at least their name.  On the other hand, he had the sender’s number on his phone – he could find out what he needed to know.  Another message came through the phone.  I’m sorry.  I’ve done something very bad.  The man reading the messages let out a tired sigh.  This digital world he now lived in – it was so easy to make mistakes, so easy to confess, and so easy to gain absolution.  He laid the phone on the bench he sat on.  Closing his eyes, his lips murmured a prayer to God while he quietly meditated the choices laid before him.  Suddenly – a knock on the panel next to him brought him back … The man opened his eyes and slid the panel exposing a rectangular screen.  He let out the breath encased in his aging lungs and heard the warm words on the other side of the privacy screen.  “Bless me Father for I have sinned …”

Journey Home

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Photo Credit:  Matthew Wiebe

I wait on the side of the road – cars rushing by like flood waters, staved off momentarily by a red light.  Humidity makes the day hotter, and I wait in the heat – waiting – anticipating, to return home. Although I wish that you were with me, this is a journey I make alone.  People surge around me as electric currents carrying their own energy. No eye contact made, even less physical contact – as they cleverly make their way to their seats I keep on thinking about a shared bed, laying my head next to you, and your warm presence … Instead my body is engulfed by a blast of cold air – provided by state of the art public transportation.  The riders are frozen individually – socially separate even though inches apart, and in the window I think I see your reflection next to mine.  Accompanied by your memory, I feel like I’m already home.  Multiple stops are made – people flow in and out of aisles.  Seeing new faces for every mile of this journey taken. This window is a protected view as I gaze on makeshift homeless abodes, construction taking place on weather destroyed roads, a crazed street preacher proclaiming the end of the world, and the rain now coming down – pelting the windows as if heaven hurled them to punctuate his words.  I make my exit – my journey almost done – as I’m drenched heading out these bus doors walking to my own.