Before sun scales the Himalayas and leaps through the panes, we wake to the surfroar of monk-chant, chattering mynas, the clearwater melodies of blue shama birds, to crow squawk and the slap, slap, slap of a basketball dribbled on the court across the street. Moon Peak bleeds sateen just east of our dreams and we are struck by luck’s riptide at this juncture of prayer wheels with long-tailed birds. Daily the Dalai Lama intones sutras older than oaks, among mountains and their cargo of refugees, instructing an end to enemies, and their detonations of suffering, remote and close as home.
Our Western heartbeats tuned to the cockroach rush of deadlines, finally calm as we sit in thick grass, awakening. My body sways to the tempo like blue whale song or rivernotes at the back of a mourning dove’s throat until I forget the clipped syllables of spin doctors, conquest’s sharp verbs.
I remember the female grizzly in Yellowstone, glowing cinnamon in sunset’s orange bath, a pendulum ticking to light leaving this world. My heart shatters, then reassembles its reflections downstream.
How close we are. On crow wings, my friend, writing in Hawaii, appears, her long black hair streaming salt over black sand, her songs recalling temple bell and high-altitude breeze, ice and its passage from the world. She and I sit, in another time, singing under these trees.
She flies through me, and I know happiness is more than gossip or laughter, is the trigonometry of shadows shimmering between vectors of shine, the way certain wings die into sky fast as runoff from Himalayan peaks.
What can circumscribe the delicacy of wrist bones turning up to face the sun or the way a crow can slice sideways through branches to chart each updraft of story creating the world.
Listening to rising leaf shiver, I hear again Ama Adhe’s voice, see river sheen in her grandmother eyes above the gravitas of her bones solid as yaks rocking up steep-skreed slopes, as she recounts her arrest by Chinese soldiers in Tibet for refusing to renounce nonviolence, her Buddhist faith, arrested with her husband and her sister, both shot in the head while she screamed.
With three hundred women, Ama was imprisoned, and in four years, two hundred ninety-six starved to death, numbers too vast for our hearts ripped open, bereft of calculation. Raped by cattle prods interrogators shoved into their birth canals, into their mouths, beaten and beaten again, these women refused to renounce love or their minds to the butchers who simply stopped feeding them.
As guards watched, the women ripped their shoes into finger-sized pieces to share, chewed strips of flesh men prisoners sliced from the backs of their own arms and thighs. The women died anway and the men, souls wrapped in prayer shawls of winter winds winding from the snows of Anapurna, from the endurance of sister peaks.
Refugees from a bulletblind culture, we’ve lost the way to translate Ama’s lack of revenge for her captors, for the murderers of her beloved sister, husband and friends. Rootshook and shamed by our petty whinings, the shrunken losses we’ve sustained, her story drove splinters of understanding under the fingernails of our sleepwalking lives. When we finally left the stunned room we inhaled the sweet alms of finch song above lepers dragging stumps wrapped in bloody rags through tourist streets.
Waiting for the Dalai Lama, I sit cross-legged on the grass with a monk from Bhutan and a young Tibetan cradling her baby, who stares at us as he reads each of our secrets, his face a laughing moon, round and clean as Buddha’s, black lashes luxurious as wet feathers. Like the crows, he can’t stop giggling. In any language, babies laugh the same.
Enemies are as much a choice as friends, whether, when hurt, to upturn a hand or flip a bird. Sometimes love can detonate faster than a grenade.
How can I bring this learning home, back to the slurry and burn of the everyday? Back to the greedy chop of political gain. To automatic weapons, public lies and hating enemies, our multinational industry of fear.
Hindi rifles flank the Dalai Lama as he walks past, yellow as a silk scarf unwinding grace to the temple. Who would assassinate his kind intent? I don’t want to know. As he lifts his arm to wave, he seems on the verge of a joke, eyes bright as rainy crows predicting an end to drought. Eucalyptus leaves ripple sweet over us who would learn love’s ancient sutras, the focus of the mind’s labyrinth
Namgyal Monastary, Dharamsala, India
Pamela Uschuk is the author of five books of poetry, including the latest, Crazy Love (Wings Press, April 2009), just nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and the chapbook, Pam Uschuk’s Greatest Hits (Pudding House Press, 2009). Her work has appeared in nearly 300 publications worldwide and is translated into a dozen languages. She lives in Colorado.
Photo of prayer flags in Tibet by lanur, courtesy Pixabay.