I crawled into a sickbed and was then wheeled into a hospital room where I would be waiting to take a few tests. It was quite embarrassing as I assessed my health condition to be stable. I was wasting the resource that could be useful and even crucial to genuine patients. A category I did not consider myself belonging to. The doctors insisted that I undergo a thorough examination. They wanted to find out whether my worsening eye vision was caused by an unidentified neurological disease.
Lying in the sickbed in that worn little room provided me with a strange sense of satisfaction, as if the mind was granted some unexpected yet much needed peace and freedom. I was blocked from the outside world, the routines and duties. The sickbed became my retreat.
A menu was offered, steamed salmon, beef stroganoff, cooked turkey were among the choices. I settled on steamed cod with broccoli and carrots. A tray of food and drink was brought to me by a nurse with a warm smile. “Enjoy your meal”, she said and left me alone. I ate with mixed feelings, still doubted whether I was qualified to be a recipient of such kindness and care the doctors and nurses showed me.
I grabbed M Train from the cloth bag, a book I picked up from the “Recommended books” shelf at the university library. That would be something for me, I knew it instantly. What was that, a lonely coffee cup, a sense of cool sophistication, or the image of Patti Smith lost in thoughts?
Some writers have the extraordinary ability to speak straight to the mind, and the heart. They caught my strangest ideas and most intense emotions, re-arranged and put them before me in an elegant manner, with a vocabulary I could only dream of.
During the 3 day stay in the hospital, I fell in love with Patti Smith. Or should I put it differently, a connection was established between her and me. I was deeply moved by her honesty, her loss, her passionate love for her husband, her children, her brother, her friends and her fellow writers. Patti will always have a special place in my literary world.
Throughout the journey, in retrospect, Patti recalled her visits of the graves of some great writers and poets. Among them, Sylvia Plath, Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, and Osamu Dasai.
When I was young, about 13 or 14 years old, I had a longing to visit the grave of my beloved artist, as if it was the only way to be close to her, who died when I was 11. She committed suicide. As I aged, more graves have been added to the list but the intensity of longings of this sort has somehow decreased. I did not accomplish any of them. Patti did. She journeyed all the way through, from America to England in the case of Sylvia Plath, and from America to Japan when visiting the graves of Ryūnosuke Akutagawa and Osamu Dasai. They all committed suicide. It struck me that there was a possible link. Virginia Woolf, and my beloved Taiwanese writer Sanmao. The common fate of these writers. Or was it pure coincidence?
On those snowy winter mornings and evenings, she entered the cemeteries, washed the headstones, burned the incense, sat by them and then lost in her thoughts.
– I walked to the ruins to an adjacent field across Back Lane and quickly found her grave.
I have come back, Sylvia, I whispered, as if she’d been waiting (Smith 2015: 198-199).
I finished M Train in my sickbed and intended to give it a summary. It was a mess of vague images and loose words. I closed the book and lifted my head. The sky had again turned grey, it was raining. A sense of melancholy merged into something of a similar character left by Patti, a distant yet intense longing. The lonely coffee cup, the mute darkness, and Patti lost in thoughts. It all makes sense now, perfect sense.
M Train is a book which is far more richer than visiting the graves. It’s about adventures, loss and love, and so much more. I have only managed to bring a fraction of this great piece to the post. Lying in my own bed now and suffering from terrible headache, a side effect of one of the medical tests I underwent last week, I think it is time to end the post and take a good rest. And then, all of a sudden, I dearly miss it, my sickbed.