Tsering Wangmo Dhompa

It’s not just that trees know to make their own
food, or build their canopy from under brassy
ground, but how their emerald crown revives,
swelling from the tips year after year, remembering
that the sun does not shine for itself. Some days
I wonder if it is good health that makes the tree
outside my window swollen with leaves
like a lollipop, or if it is the knowledge of death.
Last month, I said to a friend, this is life, the lowest
place, the highest place. There is nothing more.
She heard, there is nothing more to life. Before
school permanently furrowed straight lines
in my notebook and promised me to a resurrected
god, I was taught that life is impermanent.

The route my mother took to live was circular,
she found no guide to its borders. She adjusted;
they all did. Plucking yolky amber from their hair
in exchange for a bag of rice, like it was fair.
But how does one measure fairness without
thinking of that moment when light leaves
even as you cling to it. I’m never ready
even though I know a day ends, as a poem does.
Poems about that country––its frosty coat,
its mossy-bosky summer––is a stopper for the sink
that overflows every time the family gathers.
To say brick in Tibetan as casually as sky or sorry
is a freedom, but I have to first seek someone
who knows what I mean. Brick tea. Brick yak dung.

The trees in Suleiman Mansour’s Olive Field are eclipsed
by the antique-gold land and the scissor-like rock walls
with open jaws and alligator crawl. I see fire, pyre.
Perhaps the painting captures for me the hour before
trees give up their secrets, when they tell the story
of what they have seen, what they know. What is
lost, what is to come. Language is not the only
loss that came with English. I’ve played this scene
in my head a few times: my grandmother plunges
into the river taking two soldiers with her. She is
not the only human to have drowned resisting
the plunder of her home. Without her words I defer
to a thesaurus: refusal, resistance, struggle. She alone knows
her final prayer. My mother had grandmother-eyes.

I thought I would learn to recognize loss over time,
to toss it loosely over my shoulders like plants
whose blossom turn into seeds that parachute with the wind.
Before I plant tomato seeds, I clear out the weeds, I think
of the months ahead. I cut back the leaves close
to the ground, I pull suckers up to build a tattered curtain.
In spring this heart remembers as if seeing for the first time,
the spears of daffodil shoots tearing through the leathery
crust of garden soil bloodied from red mulch.

Tsering Wangmo Dhompa is the first Tibetan female poet to be published in English. Her first book of poems, Rules of the House (Apogee Press, 2002), was a finalist for the Asian American Literary Awards in 2003. She was raised in India and Nepal and is fluent in several languages and dialects—including Tibetan, Hindi, and Nepali. Tsering received her BA from Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi University, her MA from University of Massachusetts in Amherst, and her MFA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State. Her poetry articulates the nostalgia of displaced Tibetans, recording the memories of elders in Tibetan communities.