He did not want us to change the color of the ceiling
to his prison cell. Remember everything, he said, the words,
the meaning, and the sequence of events. We remember his story
with layers. What is heard, what is meant to be heard, the meaning
of the story. He maintained it was about freedom. He was put away
for carrying a narrative of tradition that swayed the minds
of his people. How he wandered beyond the isolation of prison cages!
How heavy his tongue from tasting the body devouring its own
muscles, the growing fingernails altering into talons. The sliver of sky,
the grass slipping through cracks in the walls: he measured them all.
The blue of remembering. Do not reorder my story, uncle said.
If you mix up the order with each telling, the story will be different
and the levels will change. If you change details, the meaning will shift,
he said. What he meant to say was there is a way to listen. It’s about turning
the mind. I thought about the mind as a place where things happened.
The mind was the thing that had been ripening, like a lotus in mud,
he would say, making us work to fulfill his analogy. Making plans
for the future in prison was like using a spoon to dig into an iron bed,
he would say. Freedom was always his to use, the mind, his. Liberation.
I was not present when he parted from his mind. He took nothing,
as predicted. I am careful with the layers, my hands now accustomed
to constant wringing and washing in my quarantine. The morning sun
draws out the vascular system of plants on the windowsill, I follow
the ridges of serrated veins and consider how little I know of longitude
and latitude. He’d say to start from the center. To turn the mind to mind.
About the Contributor
Tsering Wangmo Dhompa was born in India and raised in India and Nepal. She is the author of the poetry books My Rice Tastes like the Lake, In the Absent Everyday, and Rules of the House, all from Apogee Press, Berkeley. Dhompa’s first nonfiction book, Coming Home to Tibet, was published by Penguin in India and Shambhala Publications in the United States. She teaches in the English Department at Villanova University.