These words are the inquiry of the tinker who speaks with Elisa Allan in John Steinbeck's "The Chrysanthemums." After Elisa tells him that she has nothing for him to repair, the tinker looks at the chrysanthemum bed where Elisa has been working. He asks what kind of plant they are. Delighted that someone shows interest in her flowers, Elisa replies that they are chrysanthemums that she raises every year. Then the tinker asks,
"Kind of a long-stemmed flower? Looks like a quick puff of colored smoke!"
With this simile, Elisa is delighted by the figurative language and the man's imagination in contrast to her husband's literal and pratical language. When the tinker expresses a desire to have some of the chrysanthemums' seeds, Elisa eagerly replies that she can put some in damp sand for him to carry with him. The excitement of Elisa as she pots some of the flowers for the tinker indicates how starved she has been for "a quick puff of colored smoke" of imagination.