Chaas Curry

E. Hume Covey

Two months into her illness, Pat
lay in pain, nearly immobile,
nourished by pills and liquids,
no appetite even for favorite foods—
fried okra, duck with turnips, jambalaya, even
cereal and milk. She suddenly blurted,
“Chaas curry!” I’d nearly forgotten
this staple of our early time together,
one of the simplest and best of all foods,
learned from my sister, from her in-laws,
from generations back, in Gujarat—
no formal recipe, just some good guidelines.
With no buttermilk or yogurt in the house
and all the stores closed for the night,
I pulled out a bottle of kefir—close enough—
crackled some mustard seeds in oil,
threw in some other spices, even hing this time,
stale dried curry leaves, and rice flour,
and let it simmer. Oh, and some cloves; Pat
always wanted to see a few dark cloves floating
in the yellow curds. Miraculously, she ate
nearly a bowl of it, more protein
than she’d had in the last four weeks.
This was our go-to dish until the end,
bringing us both full circle to our early days.
Finally, in the hospital, immobile, fed through IVs
and with oxygen forced into her rapidly failing lungs
to no avail, unaware of where she was or who I was,
she suddenly sat up and whispered, “Cereal and milk.”
The nurse didn’t understand. Pat repeated, “Cereal and milk,”
and lay back silent. Two days later, at four a.m., I sang
some favorite arias—not full-voice, in deference to the setting—
read her “For I will consider my cat Jeoffry,” four of her own poems,
and “The Wild Swans at Coole” and after four hours
gave in to their requests to turn off the machines.