Tsering Wangmo Dhompa grew up in the Tibetan communities of India and Nepal, and moved to the United States to attend college and graduate school. Her collection of poems, Rules of the House, the first book of poetry published in English by a Tibetan woman, describes her coming-of-age during the Tibetan diaspora.

Due to early monsoon rain, Saturday’s class is dismissed. Seven nuns abandon their books on the roof.

Raindrops, I say in English. They want to learn functional words: immediately, enlightenment, conversion.

A man pisses outside the window. He draws a perfect square on the wall, then sticks his tongue out at us.

Night brings its night talk. Yeshe hides her face behind her robes, asks for a precise translation of masturbation.

Stars are motionless on the street. We squat in the dark and learn to count.

Water drove the dogs crazy. M says it has more to do with the place. Serves dried turnips to the nuns.

I translate letters for parents whose children are learning other things. Unpredictable in his allegiance to English,

A Tibetan son sends orange mountains of love to his mother. The gloaming chews up the horizon.

The nuns want to know if I can teach them what the “school people” learn.

I tell them one learns according to one’s needs, as the evening news is read in crisp English.

Doma pines for winter. She has a new woolen sweater, the style not quite nun-like. But she is ready for it.

I wanted paper. Bone white. Cheap Chinese paper, she said as she touched it.

From Rules of the House, © 2002 by Tsering Wangmo Dhompa. Reprinted with permission of Apogee Press.

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