Sweet Butter Tea is a collection of poems that spontaneously sprang from the most personal memories and childhood recollections of exiled Tibetan Ten Phun. Since his escape into India, Ten Phun has experienced a bewildering sense of loss, harrowing loneliness, as well as lively times in a borrowed space. This volume is peppered with eclectic images of confusion, nostalgia, and the poet’s deep longing to be back in his home of Tibet. “I don’t know how old my heart is, I only know my five-o’clock shadow tells it all,” Ten Phun writes. This book of poetry promises a dizzying journey into a young adult refugee’s struggles, dreams, and musings, all packed into bite-sized verses that grasp at truth and attempt to put into words the anguish of physical, emotional, and psychological dislocation.
Poet/rapper/actor Ten Phun was born in Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet. After losing both his parents, his aunt enrolled him in Lhasa's Sera Monastery, where as a novice monk he secretly read children's storybooks translated into Tibetan, including Snow White and The Adventures of Pinocchio. In 1999, he fled to India, where he studied in a Tibetan refugee school. He studied briefly at Delhi University before dropping out to live an artistic life in the hills of Dharamsala. Ten Phun sings, writes, and acts in plays as a member of the only Tibetan theater group in exile.
Words to My Readers, ix
May you live for aeons and aeons, 3
No worries, Acha, 6
I only know, 8
A Tribute to Sumo-la, 9
To China’s leaders, 11
The secret, 13
Life is elsewhere, 14
Self talk, 17
Let it go, 20
Just stay for a while, 22
Let it flow, 24
My art is simple, 26
What more can I write?, 28
I feel full of writing, 29
I met a wise man in my dream last night, 34
Exile kungfu, 37
There is a monster in your brain, 38
Garrulous sparrow, 41
Bad girls, 42
Child heart and butter tea, 44
Seasons of life, 46
Words to My Readers
My notion of art is a mixture of purity and trash. Art is relative—like painting. You can find pictures in words, words in music, and songs in a canvas. How closely they are all related, wow!
Most of my poems reflect the myriad tunes of loneliness and sadness and the poignancy of our lives in exile. They contain my experiences, observations, and the gentle fragility of this time, and sometimes reflect the bitterly comic. Many were written at night. There are millions of people like me. Every one of us tries to build a home in his or her own heart. It is not that easy.
Many years ago, when I was an inquisitive little monk in one of the biggest monasteries in Tibet, I found my own secret corner inside children’s fairytales. I adored this place. It opened my eyes to a bigger world. Reading became a habit.
I read Snow White translated into my own language (i.e., Tibetan). I learnt the essence of morality from Pinocchio, the wooden boy whose nose grew when he lied; the Frog Prince, and Beauty and the Beast. When I slept in the abbot’s storeroom, I read books and secretly ate milk powder and the small treats my relatives had brought for me, and I listened to music on a taperecorder. That’s how I opened my eyes to the world beyond.
Now here I am, a wandering Tibetan, staying with my chosen brothers and sisters in the shadow of our root guru, safe in the snow-capped ranges of the Himalayan Dhauladhar.
Frankly, I know very little about politics or global affairs. But I understand that each one of us wants to feel good. We dislike disturbances, mental or otherwise. We all like to sleep peacefully after our work is done. I feel that mental calmness is the key to unlocking the door to happiness, and sometimes I achieve it.
I firmly believe any conflict can be solved through negotiation and mutual understanding. I believe in the word ‘‘forgiveness” and know it is not a sign of weakness. It is a friendly word that looks to the future. I know it is possible that yesterday’s enemies can become today’s trustworthy friends.
My inspiration for writing is innate and has been fertilized by observing the efforts of my friends. It has grown stronger over these years of hardship and loss. I never stopped working on my store of words. They enrich my life each day and sink deeply into my soul. I am grateful that words come easily, and am also learning to tame and order them—and myself.
I owe the birth of this book to the sky, the trees, and the mountains, and to the endless sharing with some of the craziest, most humble-hearted beings on earth.
Lastly, I wish that this, my small book of heartfelt poems, might touch you and serve you in some way, perhaps even momentarily soothing that complex place in us all that seems to be seeking a cure.