Trekking in Tibet I meet the Dalai Lama.
Hello Dalai. Hello David. After some
hesitation and small talk, I ask him
what kind of washer/dryer combination
to buy. He says, “What is your universe
of choices?” Basically, it’s down
to ASKO, the Swedish import, and Maytag,
the quality American product. The snow
contrail winging off Chomolungma turns
east toward Bhutan. A sign? I explain
that the ASKO duo is friendlier to all
living things—uses less electricity, water,
bleach, detergent—and gets clothes cleaner,
purples purpler, but costs twice as much.
The Maytag is spartan, righteous, renounces
superfluity, cleans okay, but throws repairmen
out of work. The Dalai Lama nods, sips
his yak butter tea and eyes a frisky dzo
in the yawn of Tingri Plains distance. I
consider his silence. Is this a reproach?
While waiting, and waiting, for his answer
I ponder his baggage: The Swedes had come
through with the Peace Prize, overdue, granted,
but still. Plus he’s quite green, definitely
pro-planet. Is a dear object more material
than a cheap one? Would the Buy American
motive be dismissed as empty nationalism?
And yet who rides higher, astride his kiang,
with the banner of the nation-state, than he?
The huge head of Richard Gere, a tsonga blossom
in his hair, comes floating like a Macy’s
Parade balloon above the snowcapped summit
of sacred Kailas. The Dalai Lama coughs,
reaches for a peppermint lozenge not yet
spoiled by the Chinese occupation, and says,
“Sometimes a belonging that doesn’t work
properly creates suffering for us.”