Home, A Transitive

By Tsering Wangmo Dhompa

For Rom Srinivasan

The persimmon tree
and my neighbor’s son — fronted
by acne — winter’s diet. Meanwhile,
caves and rocks are named in the future tense.
Stupefied gargoyles have had better luck
in history books; the nation’s monuments
are made of enduring stuff. We are obstinate
ink stain, memory, an animal whose similes lose
scale. If story is a wavelength, we could pick
a beginning, follow intention to the border,
then let custom reign. When we build a nation,
we are permanently old and always new.
Mother died a refugee, she thought the status
was a promise of return. She had a version
of nation under the bed. Never mind that her village
took a new name; the jar of water
from her childhood’s river, ten stones and five
twigs were clues that home was transitive.

The invasion on body holds only the heart hostage.
Armies of the past unfurl the flag of love at dawn,
there are no takers but the part of self
that privileges misery. Soon, you will fall. As the fruits
swell, the branches sag with orange sweetness. I miss you,
orange much. I want time to return to the moment before you
got off the bus and walked toward the beginning of the story
(this is a we tragedies are made of). If you’d been ten minutes late,
if geography was inconsequential to the struggle of belonging,
there would be no reason to allude to the mood of patriarchy.
Bring a different set of ears, or measuring system, something
that communicates the loss that all the words along the border
are fiction. Bring a heart that barters; that is not afraid to split.

Heart muscles begin their dirge during a heart attack. Oxidation
is linked to regeneration, which is also to say words build
their own web within a system. She said, All disease starts in the colon.
She knows where oxygen is stored in the building.
She knows who needs it most, sometimes it is given
to the one who will heal quickest. In time, new tissue granulates
the wound: pattern of tiny cells visible on the sun’s surface
through a telescope, or cumulus clouds, or dandelion clocks.
The edges of a wound shrink over time around a scar,
that, like maps, tell an incomplete story.

Drizzle morning, a color-shy palette against
which trees, brought to the forefront, are not
themselves. Elsewhere, the heater rumbles, abiding
to mechanical intuition, turning on and off. I stay cold,
I am warm. I know nothing about conduction or the secret
of a lie. The street, wearied by leaves pressing as far as stone
allows for sinking, is mottled from impositions. A crow hovers
over a chimney, buoyed by who knows what. Intimations of life
push upward in hot air. An ordinary day on an ordinary street,
where the only proof of people are lights on the porch, timid
in the brume, and images of refugees on television screens.
A sadness is thickening
the stomach’s heart,
it must, it cannot collapse
into self-ashes.
Fresh flowers for gods
at a discount; today no discount
for happiness. Today,
the sun hisses, eyes
date us. Split in two,
asphalt day. The heart can return
to its normal size in four months.
Things in space are produced
out of discord. The time it takes to turn
to time. We were sitting in a room fused
of desire, not for the other but for the one
from the past whose lashings
we scratch in our dreams, as salve.
This side of the river, after the pass,
we learn about boundaries when we shut
the front door. Fields of bodies on the verge
of drinking from the river. Lips opened
to freeze: that is one memory of the old country
forgotton by books in school. Mothers remember
the bodies they buried. Life after death, and death
in every breath. Belonging: a verb and
a strip of hope I fed with orchids on sale and recipes
brought from a country I now hover over in virtual maps.
I twist time as a child tightens the cap of a bottle, the right
direction a consequence of loss, the left the vocabulary
of departure. I am walking backwards hoping to reverse,
to unsee what I cannot forget. To leave something else
as trails to find a way forward.

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