Friday, October 8, 2010

The Teachings of Tea

The scroll has three characters on it. Three hundred brush strokes. Three thousand meanings.

“Calm in busyness,” she translates and bows to the scroll. For a moment her face is folded in the fabric that drips down to her ankles. A thin wisp of air separates her forehead from the floor.

Shuffling back to the entrance, she exits the tearoom, carefully sliding the rice paper screen door closed in three precise movements.

If you listen hard enough you can hear a muffle of a sound when the screen shuts against its wooden frame.

A bird coos in the garden.

An old man coughs.

In the space that silence opens, her words reverberate.

Calm in busyness.

She slides across the tatami mat on her knees with a tray of pink confections.

Another bow.

Then swiftly she spreads her kimono wings, and they sway under each movement.

Wipes the bowl. Folds the wipe. Dips the ladle. Ladles the water.

Steam rises in sync to the sound of the cast iron lid as it scrapes the pot and seals the heat in.

Whips the tea. Sets down the whip. Nothing is tossed. Nothing is torn.

If you look closely enough you can see what appears to be one movement is really one hundred. Like the way a centipede crawls. Like the way a spine bends backwards.

And each sip of tea is followed by fifty swallows.

And each shuffle across the room is a journey of a thousand years.

*          *          *

These days there’s a bite to the night air. It’s softened during the day by the scent of fading roses and fallen leaves.

A misty rain descends and sometimes feels like the weight of a thousand swords. But when it clears, the greens are greener and the cricket sounds echo a little louder.

I forgot how exquisite the landscape is after a storm. Life has so many details to offer if one chooses to be aware of them.


  1. "These days there’s a bite to the night air. It’s softened during the day by the scent of fading roses and fallen leaves."

    Love it!! And reading your posts makes me all the more excited to come visit you!!!

  2. I wonder how you would have felt on 9.28.10 when it was 113 degrees F in LA (and, one week later, a high of 65).

    On a x-town packed bus ride home, I read and then slow my breath.


    Off to SF Saturday.

    Stay warm and peaceful.


  3. That's so cool that you read my blog on an LA bus. That makes me smile!

  4. Poetic and thought provoking.I miss you so much.

  5. This is wonderful Brenna. You are so evocative in your choice of words. My favorite line and the image I'm left with as I head for bed: calm in business. And that the gestures of a tea ceremony can have all the complexity of a centipede crawling.

    I'm struck by how much this piece reads like a well-written screenplay. That feeling persists until the line about the centipede when you shift from describing the actions to more of an editorial style that reminds me of my favorite short story authors. And yet even this could work in a script to slow down our sensation of the images.

    You are a beautiful writer. I can't wait to read more.

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience of the world.

    You are missed sorely on the east coast. And yet this blog gives me the feeling you are absolutely in the perfect place; japan is so full of beauty and care, i can't wait to hear what you take away from the place and add to your palette from the experience.

  6. Thank you so much for your compliments and encouragements.