« Safe Travels | Main

IN DHARAMSALA AMONG TIBETAN EXILES

For Galen Murton, my students (Jamie, Jen, Ben, Lauren, Ellie, Molly,
Sarah, Linnea,)
and for The Dalai Lama

I

In Norbulingka begins the pulse
of water under prayer flags, bamboo and
tropical figs. Even air holds
its breath steady listening to thin syllables
raising the consciousness of the stream.

Doves quicken thick leaves, their
throat-songs on the edge
of Babel, insistent. Love me. Love
Me. Light slides like a silk sleeve
over the water buffalo shoulders of rocks,
carved in the four-colored keys—
Om mani padme HUM--and the hungry traffic
of the world dissolves. Peace
and the flame-toned lily spreads its six tongues
to a shifting sky.

II

Why does the heart take
so long to arrive
in any place, days
even weeks after the body
with its sonambulent tastes
unpacks its luggage, forgets
home?

III

A white-cheeked bulbul flips
upside-down, clowns
in a mango tree,
and I no longer imagine his antics
are just for me,
as time clicks its worry beads, flickering
through all of us.

IV

What is the nature of longing but the body
disappearing like wet silk
disintegrating in the rush of current
over stone? What
begins water or the tensile strength
of spider webs caught on my skirt?

V

This far gone, home is more heart
than bone, than stucco,
windowpane or sandstone
strewn by design in our front yard.

What I don’t miss—the niggling
tongues of newscasters
playing the old stick game
of disaster, the on-going argument
that sends thousands
away from home to roadside bombs,
to the broken metal teeth of Iraqi streets,
the blood-smeared deities of conquest
in the Bardo of civil war.

VI

Sun strafes Himalayan peaks, speaks
something like Shangri-la, distills
to serene wine in this slow garden, where
blue-headed magpies fan the long elegance
of white tail plumes through
a jungle of heat-deflecting leaves.
Even random dogs are polite,
don’t bite when offered a vulnerable hand.

VII

Just up the hill, the Dalai Lama chants, his voice
old and deep as whale-song, instructing
monks in the art of peace. Namgyal monastery is misplaced
along with the survivors and their memories
of torture and extermination in Tibet, where
high ridge after ridge razors blue air,
where Chinese settlers swarm, inexhaustible
as colonies of ants, and where the songs of birds
and dzos are driven across snowline.

Two red dragonflies mate
As I whisk black ants
from their task of cartography,
charting my body’s intrusion
into their ancient trade routes. Negotiating
treacherous folds, they skitter
across the turquoise terrain
of my skirt. Is their intent
less passionate than mine?

VIII

In Norbulingka, monks in blood-
red robes glide past like
contemplative poppies among tourists
staring at intricate Tibetan boxes, tangka paintings
and boxcar-sized bronze sculptures
of Buddha in this place remade
from the broken bones of home.

No barb wire or cattle prods, no Chinese
tanks rattle these refugee streets
where the main commerce is meditation
and healing—the miracle is that
the heart persists, intoned dusk
and dawn, in the spin of gold prayer wheels
above gold carp who for centuries have
learned water’s changing moods,
learned to adapt to wild current thrash
and sullen backwater.

I admire these weightless filmy ghosts
disguised as fish. What do they see
through bulging sun-colored eyes
but my distorted shadow blocking their sky
and the way I disappear completely as any bird wing
or common leaf blown
across the transported face of water
that is constantly leaving.

Pamela Uschuk
Dharamsala, India