From My Commonplace Book - 33

from "Autonomy of the Mind"

by Tsering Wangmo Dhompa

Mrs. Dhondyo says life is not a happy lollipop
and she has said that before. Not in so many words
but when her brother lost his house in a neighborhood fire,
and she went out to save what she could; while he went
to his buddies and drank himself to sleep--she said
she was, "washing herself off his affairs." Then the next morning
was seen cleaning the yard of embers. She is sitting with mother
who upon losing her composure is crying into her hands,
"Really I would understand everything, if only he would..."
Somehow I always lost her last words. They are seated before
the window; how still the world is before mother's shaking
shoulders and Mrs. Dhonup running back and forth
between tea on the stove and cleaning rags which she puts
against mother's cheeks. She taps her fingers against the window
to dislodge the ant walking on the outside. She points towards it
and it becomes the object of their compassion. Mother looks at the ant,
and beyond it to endless minutes, anticipating a lesson. Life is not a happy lollipop,
she says. She looks toward me. Her fingers reach
for the window as though to wipe away the image before her.
It is her own, but she is looking at something else.

The poem "Autonomy of the Mind" by Tsering Wangmo Dhompa (Tibetan American, born in India, 1969) appears in The Wisdom Anthology of North American Buddhist Poetry. The poet's Rules of the House was published by Apogee Press. She works for the American Himalayan Foundation in San Francisco.

Hear her read at:

It is not clear to me if she reads her own work in this video or that of another Tibetan writer.


What a lovely piece of writing thanks Merry - Buddhist themes - and your link to what sounds like (my laptop couldn't amplify) her fond travels in Tibet - spirit, people and landscape inspired. Life's not always a "happy lollipop" - don't we know a bit of that too. !
Thank you, Enid.

Sorry that the sound quality on the video was not good. Yes, I think you're right that she was reading about her travels in Tibet.

Also I wanted to say that I clicked on the category "prose poetry" in error and don't know how to correct it.

When I posted the poem, I thought that the "she" in the last three lines referred to Mrs. Dhondyo, but now I'm not sure. Maybe the pronoun refers to "mother."

That lack of clarity, which could easily have been corrected, now seems to me a weakness in the poem.
Hi Merry, I've had to take a small break - teeth (surgical) removals necessary on top of the ME usuals. My brother (very sweetly of legs) - must use or lose, but then he's a Doc and would knowing nothing of ME. A stroll a first call on energies available (post polio condition).

I do agree that the last lines refer to "Mother"and I'm personally quite happy with the ambiguities. A certain rising above - "she is looking at something else". As far as I know from my Uni comparative religious studies it's Buddhist and delightful. Compassion and beyond does that one wonders need any change.
Sorry, Enid, to hear that you've had to have teeth removed. And do you mean your doctor brother is encouraging you to get out and walk? Very difficult, surgery and added exercise, when you are already ill with ME. Please rest! I hope you will feel much better soon.

Thanks for your opinion on "she" at the end of the poem. Mother it is.

I admire the emphasis in Buddhism on looking beyond oneself and feeling compassion for others, for all beings who suffer.
That's a very readable poem/story, Merry. I can't read very much but really enjoyed this - there are stories of several people and a few wise points about life in general. I wish I could read more!
Hi, Purple.

Thank you for your positive comment. I'm so happy that you enjoyed the poem.

But I'm sorry to hear that illness keeps you from reading as much as you'd like.

Wishing you better health,

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