A Tibetan Daughter
(to Tsering Wangmo Dhompa)
she builds a stupa of words for her mother
a tibetan daughter
she walks all day in distant lands imaging the places of conception and birth
she greets her mother in elements of physical existence on earth
shape of a tree. feel of the rain. whispers in the wind. glow of butter lamps.
even her wedding ring.
she feels her mother’s hands on the beads of the rosary now she tells,
in common faith she dwells
a tibetan daughter resurrects an exile wish-tree
she flips through pages of an alternate history:
the stateliness of a chieftain grandfather, enmeshed life of a princess
exile of a nation, the snowland, to which she returns her mother in ashes
a tibetan shravana kumar carries in her heart her mother
each day she lights a lamp of thought soaked in butter
from her memory chest of a score and four
and offers it to the stupa of words she builds for her mother
*Tsering Wangmo Dhompa is a contemporary Tibetan exile poet. Her mother, who was a daughter of a chieftain in eastern Tibet, fled into exile in 1959 and became the first woman to join the Tibetan parliament in exile. Tsering lost her single parent in a car accident.
* * *
Borrowing the Bardo
(conversation between a Tibetan librarian and a research scholar)
but we have slant eyes and flat noses, he said
wish I had your eyes and nose, I evidenced
clapping eyelids in their ragged bed
and finger-scissoring an interfering nose
he simpered furling up a long silken sleeve
and reaching out to the ‘bardo’ on a regulated shelf
muttered sotto voce: our religion a mistress to romancers and
and our gods are pampered brats, perhaps yours too, I added
think of offerings to stone gods and of empty stomachs churning inside out
(they threaten to slit my tongue if I speak of the milk urinating one)
my tongue curled
it’s all about karma. people dying. denied. he took a rather exhausted breath
(the pundit, the monk, the father are jobs. either well done or undone) I thought
faith in karma I do not mean to disdain. faith finds its altar in the heart of doers. the
farmers and earthworms working the soil. the trees holding the ground.
I am just not a temple person, I dare declare
it’s how you like to see the other side of the perceptible mountain from this window.
how it is relative to perception. He slurped his butter tea gazing at the snow peaks
(some things like unearthing a maternal surname, not the one my mother had from her
father, is not an unthinking but a shallow dive) I recall
the mountain brings to me the spiritual than religious. faith is personal, rituals social.
so you reckon
ah, such cosmopolitan fashionable phrases are not for us, us whose lives
are destined to be re-collective, he exasperated
that, stressed he handing me ‘bardo thodol’, that is
the tragedy of having to be a nation
the tragedy perhaps of not having a nation!
*Bardo Thodol is the famous Tibetan Book of the Dead.
* * *
on the lap of water
in curling womb
from where flows
–your mighty grace.
* * *
You and I entangle, perfectly, like branches of a tree in high wind,
our eyes sparkle in lightening from the grey skies, and tongues dart out
the potion, our poisoned bodies repeating the thundering outside
sweating with your leak then
you draw out
and unfold your eyes
your eyes indifferent to me
like the calm day in oblivion of the stormy night
we are now I without you
you are the cigarette ashes
I am the butt in your ashtray burning cold
On my way home I greet eyes like yours
indifferent to my story of cold burning
my fifty rupees of daily earning
I roll chapattis salt chilies
with love in a newspaper
and as soon he is gone for labor
I think the grocery for tomorrow
* * *
~ Shelly Bhoil, poet and academic, lives in India and Brazil. Her debut poetry book is titled An Ember from Her Pyre and Other Poems (Writers Workshop, 2016). Her doctoral research is a study of Tibetan nationalism in exile through the evolution of Tibetan-English fiction. She is currently co-editing two books on Tibetan exile narratives to be published by Lexington Books.