ISSN 2768-4261 (Online)
Tsering Wangmo Dhompa
In childhood pictures, I cling to stray puppies
or sit between women, all Saira Banus. Their eyes
redrawn with kajol and oversized sunglasses,
their hair stacked like stupas. Their slacks, slit
at the ankle–halved mangoes–sunny, ripe, skin.
I am petalled, plump like a puppy at their feet
in purple pants and red cardigan. I hear still
their laughter, their love for love. Don’t turn
the radio on, my mother would advise
her friends. I guess that tells you a lot about me.
Her boss never knew I spoke English. She speaks,
she said, in her booming German-English. I was
twenty-one. Did you ever go to school?
a young man asked me. I was sipping fresh
carrot juice in Boudha, my cousins giggled.
Did you graduate? When I was four,
I wouldn’t share my snacks with others. I would
leap on the bed and soil clean sheets
when I was three. A cousin struggled
for a word to describe me at that age.
There’s a warning about new earthworm
species in the newspaper. Earthworms
were imported from Europe in the region
where I now live. When I walk under the trees
on my street, I imagine birds keeping count
of the worms I disturb. I wish I could offer
an analogy but exile is what comes
to mind when I look up at the sky.
Sarah S said flexibility is important,
she was not at morning yoga
led by a novelist in the library.
Books with secure spines cheered,
we twisted our bodies out
of their default positions.
I was talking about national movements,
Sarah was referring to the struggle. It is
everywhere. I wear good thoughts,
it is free. My mother said good thoughts
would yield good karma. We put on
good thoughts, even towards the man
who drew a circle into her palm
with his fingers while pressing her thumb
on papers she could not read.
He would rub her hand again, before
giving her rupees tied with a rubber hand.
We wore wearily our gratitude, aiming
an advance from karmic investment.
When I was old enough, when I lived
the distance between word and meaning, I found
irony. I had mother, all she had was a husband
who put his hopes into mahjong tiles
while tea turned paler in our kitchen.
She taught me to be human and to feel right,
so we protest for our rights on special days.
You should hear the stories we carry inside us.
What we stitch together loosens when we elongate
our arms to the ceiling, turn our eyes
to the back of the room where self sits.
Tsering Wangmo Dhompa is the author of the poetry books Revolute (Albion Books), My Rice Tastes Like the Lake, In the Absent Everyday, and Rules of the House (from Apogee Press, Berkeley). Dhompa’s first non-fiction book, Coming Home to Tibet, was published in the US by Shambhala Publications in 2016 and by Penguin, India in 2014. She teaches in the English Department at Villanova University.
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