— for Lama Shenpen

Bhutan, 2010

At the top of the Thimphu hills the sun leaves its afterbirth everywhere,
prayer flags drench the pines,
a monk scampers away like a red fox,

couples park their cars,
condom wrappers lodge themselves doggedly in the mud,
asserting their rightful place in the path to enlightenment.

Dingy Indian buses, painted gaudy as prostitutes,
careen along the battered road to the capital,
taking villagers to Thimphu, where lust for the West huddles like fog.

Packs of roaming boys with spiked hair and leather jackets
scour the streets for drugs, eye the Westerners hungrily —
boys who failed their exams, left their farms

to sit hung over at the run-down youth center, unemployed,
black eyes nibbling feverishly at the manic commercials
flashing from TVs;

they confess their uselessness to the Welsh monk
who has made it his life’s work to help these boys,
to bring them back into the fold.

Meanwhile, tucked above the cobbled streets
in the smoky Thimphu disco,
CNN shouts from its perch above the bar,

and schools of ghostly expats sway,
waving their drunken limbs,
lightheaded from this geography of bliss.

Alone, some lay their bodies down on stiff hotel beds
and all night try to let it go, let it go,
and still they come back to this density of longing,

hard kernel of desire on which the bulky psyche chips its tooth
and winces again,
then stumbles back to the dharma.

Outside the window barking dogs mince the night till it bleeds,
and the Bhutanese boy, high on glue,
wails a kind of love song
deep in the alley below.