Prayer flags in Tibet

One Poem
by Pamela Uschuk

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Focus of the Mind’s Labyrinth

for Ama Adhe  



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,
an end to enemies,
and their detonations of suffering,
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 UschukPamela 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.

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