YOUNG WEST MEETS MY EAST

      India

 I.   Dharamsala

Eight hours we drive north –

heat, dust, corrugated tin shacks,

pot-holed manic streets.

     Schizzed-out dogs weave the alleys,

In the garbage heaps, dung-crusted cows,

sway like Blimps over a litter of puppies. 

We hit the quarries -

whole families squatting, smashing rocks,

men in white diapers, shoulder blades stuck out like wings.

Five year-old Ana wilted, presses her face into my thigh. 

Daybreak and we’re still winding up the foothills,

our sleepy driver finally stops for chai.

Across the street a group of lepers wave their heads about like seals,

shifting back and forth on their stunted limbs

 and I’m off again, launching into another sermon on injustice.

Deep in the slums, I study her eyes, what they’re drawn to,

the Pepsi ads, the one dusty Barbie doll

straddling Ganesh like a freak.

     We arrive in Dalai Lama land,

     the crush of crowds freak her out.

From the balcony, she sits with her white rice and boiled egg

watching the red capillaries of monks 

scurrying towards His Holiness’ teachings –

 

 it’s true,

everything has a beauty, if watched from afar.


 But I want her to get closer.


     II. Jammu

Avalanches in Srinegar, highways closed,

at the airport a near riot starts over who will board.

I push her forward, like an offering,

blonde hair, planetary eyes,

and we’re shuffled by the stewardess

to the head of the crowd

while the lines of weary men look on

and accept their fate. 

III. Goa

     I slink around the fancy hotel ashamed,

but Ana springs to life,

moving from wellspring to wellspring,

     swimming pool, cornflakes, cable tv, cool white sheets.

But the way she moves, stealthy as the cheetahs she loves to imitate,

as if she mustn’t relish this too much in front of me.

     In fresh white dresses

     we step barefoot down the marble staircase,

     into the catacombs of spa rooms,

     New Age music hovers like a ghost in the halls,

     scented candles spread the hotel’s version of The Orient.

     Finally some Westernized-India she’ll try,

     we’re all over the Henna.

     She sticks out her chubby hand, ready to be painted.

     For now I vow I’ll be more patient with this child. 

IV.  Vermont

Its spring again,

mud rising, caked and grubby.

     I whistle for our overfed dogs,

     two small hippos bounce cluelessly across the snow spotted fields,

tags jingling against the tin bowls as they devour their daily ration.

I can’t resist -

remember the slaves Ana? They get less food than this

She looks at me irritably, my East and Her West grating.

     So I sit with her, and chatter,

    luring her back in with an offer 

of mac and cheese.

     I think of Nepali’s selling their daughters for new tin roofs,

the fetid cages of the brothels where they are penned.

Ulan Bator, the camel peeing on the family’s prize satellite dish,

it’s bleak, sober spring, the smell of beer and MTV,

Bhutan with its 40 new prized tv channels. 

     So many Easts leaning so eagerly West.

The sun sets, fog lifts humbly off the mountain’s back,

she tinkers with her American Girl doll.

The maples tapped, soon it will be boiling time,

the shacks fired up, glowing and gushing like dragons,

the cloud chambers of sweet steam settling deep in her veins. 

     Sweet child,

     her whole young life

     I have pushed her past this mountain, past these clouds,

     into foreign lands,

and though she does not wish to hear the brutal sounds

of their groping and clashing,

     hungry cultures spread across each other, 

     mixing and merging in unequal combinations, as they always have,

and she does not yet know

        what to make of them.

 

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Adrie Kusserow was born in Underhill, Vermont, in 1966. At nineteen, she traveled to Kathmandu, Nepal, and Dharamsala, India(home of the Tibetan government in exile), where she studied Tibetan Buddhism. She chairs the department of sociology and anthropology at St. Michael`s College in Colchester, Vermont. She has been to refugee camps in Kathmandu, Nepal; Dharamsala, India; and northern Uganda. She and her husband now work with Sudanese refugees in building schools in South Sudan with the New Sudan Education Inititative, www.nesei.org. Her first book of poems, Hunting Down the Monk, was published by BOA Editions, Ltd.(2002), and her first work of ethnography, American Individualisms, appeared from Palgrave Macmillan (2004). She won the 2002 Vermont Professor of the Year sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation and also the 2001 Society for Humanistic Anthropology Poetry Prize Winner. She has been published in the Kenyon Review, Harvard Review, The Best American Poetry 2008, Green Mountains Review among others.