Kalu Rinpoche, 1972
Kalu Rinpoche, Vancouver on his first visit to the West
© 1972 Michael McCabe, scanned from original print

Kalu Rinpoche Arrives in Vancouver, 1972

Kalu in ‘72
sat still,
spoke Tibetan quietly,
and I of course didn't
understand a word.
Exotic melodious sounds
filled my body. 
Translation wove itself in
voices and color–
Tibetan burgundy,
English dark blue;
I would wait to hear 
the voice of Kalu resume.
compassion, practice, karma,
wisdom, diligence, dharma–
words picked up midst the
colored ribbons of sound.
Dark red robes, small thin body,
occasional slight smile on the calm
weathered face.
The unforgettable face.
Who was this I came to see?

I had heard a woman say, "Tibetan lama."
Walked over, said "Did you say
Tibetan lama?"
I had never seen one, 
not this life.
She said yes,
gave me day, time, address.
I would have done anything to go.

Evening, small Victorian in
Kitsilano near the bay,
front room cleared for the visit.
Smiles and hush as people entered;
soon wall-to-wall people
cross-legged on the floor,
mala beads of
sandalwood, bodhi seed, crystal,
softly clicking, clicking.
Sitting, waiting.

Four years before, college days,
university front lawn
near the ginkgo tree,
golden leaves against the blue
of Chico spring sky,
three of us, three musketeers,
My poet friend asked,
"So do you think Tibetan yogis actually,
physically, levitate their bodies?"
All this was new to us then, 
the spiritual revolution having not yet
hit mainstream America,
and certainly had not found me.
I didn't know the books yet,
had not seen the lamas.
The only thing I knew about Tibetan yogis
was from Hilton's "Lost Horizon."
Years later I heard more,
and figured the Tibetan yogis
could do just about anything.
tumo, melting snow,
surface running,
conscious reincarnation,
dream yoga, rainbow body,
all of it.

And here was one.
Kalu Rinpoche in Vancouver, 
in my neighborhood.
The night was a whirl of burgundy robes,
the soft wind of his voice,
words of right thought, action, and
Suddenly he was quiet,
no more to say.
The small but great yogi got up.
All rose with him with their
three prostrations, bows,
rustle of bending clothing.
He left the room.
Walking home under cool night skies
I felt sounds of Tibetan
resonate through my body,
saw Kalu's face and hands,
sensed the blessing.
Even the ginkgo tree standing
full and tall in Chico,
its golden leaves lacing the sky,
appeared in the Tibetan tapestry
sheltering the walk home.

I didn't know then how many times
Kalu would appear in dreams of
golds and deep reds,
that decades later in another city
I would echo the ancient bodhisattva vows,
Kalu again before the room,
even more gaunt now,
old thin yogi wrapped in folds of red.

I didn't know the tears that would come
as I sat by the window and
said goodby after hearing
the irrevocable news
that Kalu had left his lived-out body,
that his delicate yet potent presence
was now gone from earth
this time around.

© October 1997 Leslye Layne Russell

This poem was published in the
January 1998 issue of One Dog Press.

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