There was a poetry reading at the Rubin Museum of Art today. Tsering Wangmo Dhompa read from Rules of the House, In the Absent Everyday and from her new book which is not out yet. I had the books and had read the poems, so hearing her read was like hearing a sweet old song that I haven’t heard in a while.
I feel like her poetry is more diasporic than exilic – which is perhaps another way of saying that it is more cultural than political- but it is so moving. It feels familiar and yet remarkable: she touches on familiar themes, ideas, and images but by remarking on them with her clear far-seeing eyes and gorgeous voices, she makes them remarkable. This is from Bardo, a poem to a dead uncle or as she calls him, “Uncle who is no more.” “You are dead, go into life, we pray.” How beautiful, how non-sentimental and fitting.
It is hard to pick a favorite but I particularly love this one.
Hill Station passages
Transparent, the town smeared itself around nightfall. House lights
attempted star life.
There were no rooms on Main Street. No roads bifurcating
A stranger’s town can make you shy. Dogs barked at our heels.
Avuncular and in their own way, marking every entry.
Here is someone else’s place of origin.
Dust in the morning – eager-eyed grit. Amber grass.
People spilled on to the streets like red ants driven out of hiding.
Light removed all images of the night. What was visible was
The language is startling. The images are old images made completely new. The verbs she chooses, the way she sees and expresses ideas, makes all the difference in the first lines. “The town smeared itself around nightfall.” How surprising, and yet how true. This is what a town in a fog looks like at night, a smear against, around the dark. A lesser poet might have said “House lights looked like stars” or “House lights imitated stars”- Dhompa says, “House lights attempted star life.” When she says, “Here is someone else’s place of origin,” there is so much story there- both the speaker’s and that actual someone else’s. The only line I don’t like is the next one; I find the image of people spilling out like red ants jarring, incongruous, but the rest of the poem with its detached wisdom and small surprises (like “eager-eyed grit”) is perfect.