“After His Death, the Dalai Lama Looks Down on a Yoga Class” by Adrie Kusserow

Adrie Kusserow


Perhaps because of the altitude,
since dying, he cannot sleep,
so all night he watches planet earth,
limping round the orbit like a disheveled bride,
ozone clinging like an ill-fitted wig,
dragging its bumpy train of Chinese plastics,
the refugees pushed up like rice to the sides of borders,
the swarms, the migrations pulsing north,
the bodies floating in flood after flood,
the hissing and praying, humming and tingling,
as minuscule embers of the internet glow.

In America, millions of dilated pupils absorb Kardashians,
as Mexican children huddle in an ICE cage.
Across the country crops are burning,
humans are snapping like little tyrants.
Televisions squawk their bright lights,
hawking shiny arguments. In suburbs,
pale teenage boys float like moons
in the blue fluid of their screens.

It was enough to make him turn away
to tinker with another broken watch,
until he heard the sound of OM, belted out,
at first like a bomb,
bulbous and confident,
then finally more humble,
becoming a whisper, wafer thin.

All across America, yogis
were rising and folding, sun salutating
and diving, each woman’s body punctual
and alluring, like the necks of black swans,
except for the dreadlocks poking
like tarantulas from their crowns.

That yoga had morphed as it moved West,
he did not mind,
that it was nothing like India
where the stern yogi barks out asanas
as if bored,
no props, no blocks,
no choices, no options, no
accommodations for special feelings
for unique practices.

Thanks to skillful means,
the dharma had gained footing
through the guise of Lululemon,
a spiritual materialism
held in place by capitalist claws
that sharpen on the soft backs of others.
But this would change in time.

Still they had a ways to go,
their moans and sighs
so long and overdrawn, so self-indulgent,
poses birthing long laborious vowels
announcing the depths of their stress.
The countless choices of poses given,
riddled with you decide, it’s up to you,
their warrior pose a bit too righteous,
their Namastes, cute curtsies,
denying the rapes of cultural
appropriation, Ujjayi breathing
more like steamboats
than the vastness of ocean,
savasanas like limp islands
each psyche shipwrecked by its own uniqueness.

Yes, yes, he nodded, a mantra slipping
through his breath, a harmless habit of his,
a Buddhist Tourettes.
They had yet to embody the yoke of yoga,
their senses still reporting
a solid body in time and space,
instead of the magic of northern lights,
flowing organisms
steered by millions of years of intelligence
devoted to constant change.

He chuckled again with delight,
in one year 98 percent of their atoms
would exchange for new ones,
exhaling not stress, not rage, but the universe,
(hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen
that just an instant before
was locked in solid matter),
their stomach, liver,
heart, lungs and brain
vanishing into thin air.

He could go on and on with his concatenations,
instead he adjusted his seat,
straightened his spine, worked his prayer beads,
reminding himself to be patient,
to watch his thoughts rise and fall like meteorites
across his mind, fireballs aglow with a feisty energy
that eventually fizzled and withered.
And when they did, quietly, gently,
he returned to his breath
and once more released the universe from its cage.

from Poets Respond
November 19, 2019


Adrie Kusserow: “I read this article and watched its coverage on the New York Times ‘The Weekly’ about the blurry lines in yoga between sexual misconduct and proper adjustments during a pose and was reminded of how much yoga has morphed since coming West. Yoga has now entered the MeToo movement in America. And while my poem does not address this current issue in yoga, my imagination did lead me to reflect on what the Dalai Lama would think of yoga if he looked down on it from the cosmos after his death.”

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