Tsering Wangmo Dhompa, Rules of the House
2002, Apogee Press, $12.95 US
96 pages, isbn 0 9669937 9 9
It is not the accuracy of the story that concerns me.
But who gets to tell it.
(p 11, As Remembered)
In her first trade collection of poems, Rules of the House, Tsering Wangmo Dhompa has written a suite of poems telling one extended story, each fragment full of song and fracture, and each line radiant into itself. Dhompa, who was raised in the Tibetan communities in India and Nepal, but schooled at both the University of Massachusetts and San Francisco State University, writes of moving one culture over another, not as much a collision as shifting points-of view, from her specific East to West.
Quiet. We say her chakras are in place.
When the thermos shatters, she knows the direction of its spell.
She knows how to lead and follow. Know her for this.
Sounds we cannot hear. The wind blows and we say it is cool.
(p 24, she is)
After two previous chapbooks, In Writing The Names (A.bacus, Potes & Poets Press) and Recurring Gestures (Tangram Press), there is no excess in how her writing speaks, each phrase an illumination, layering what has gone before. A lyric aria written in long lines, for the dead and for the living, the collection works as an ongoing exploration of her world and her family’s world, and the lessons she needs to understand before going further. This is probably one of the cleanest and smartest first books I’ve read in a long time.
We wait for rain to take care of certain things.
(p 46, Preparing for the third lesson)
There is such a fine simplicity with such breadth, with each pinprick existing as another opening. How rare a collection where each line becomes essential. Moving through family rituals and rules, her poems explore how things were done and are still done, with a series of lessons spread throughout, regarding the body, marriage, life and death. Lessons from the old world to the new, between the older women and their daughters.
silence in women
said aunt Pema.
What comes warm
is good warm.
The right hand kneads barley.
Left washes the bottom.
(p 14, First lesson)
Mothers teach their daughters to pick the best tomatoes. Shy to
the touch. Surface of cement. Tashi asks if husbands are picked the
(p 20, Second lesson)
Measure what is made. Its eventual contour.
(p 70, Fourth lesson)
The women around were married. And then those declared old.
Knowledge comes from what you pay attention to.
(p 92, Fifth lesson)
Even the narrator’s claim on these lessons are firm, but soft, like the tomatoes from the "Second lesson," in a line that could be read in different ways in the final poem, "One more say," writing, "Who dares to question the accuracy of a direction when the journey / was not theirs." (p 93). However considered, only the narrator will decide to take from these lessons what she will finally take.
I want too much to quote every line; reread Dhompa’s poems than finish the review. I am still so much here that I haven’t even begun to consider wanting to read more. I want more.