My First Kanji

In the psychiatric ward
You teach me kanji.
We start with “tree”:
two downward-sloping lines
with branch-like horizontal strokes.
We share a blunt pencil
the nurse has given you.
Your hand shakes as you trace characters:
tree, mouth, exit.
You smile at my attempt to copy you.

Before the diagnosis
you drove a bus in Fukushima City
past the big, blooming sakura
and the sometimes snow-capped mountains.
You hope to return one day.
You miss the flooded rice fields, curving roofs,
the rhythm of the hills and starts and stops.
I think of you when I ride your route,
look for your face in the driver’s mirror.

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Phoebe Prioleau is a fourth-year MD/MPH student at the Icahn School of Medicine.

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