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 LakeIn 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.