Three poems of longing, despair, and hope from Tibet that tell the inner stories of its people

An anthology of new poetry from Tibet reveals astonishing voices.

Farewell Prostrations

Khawa Nyingchak

Evening wind burns the sun’s braids

Fingers of darkness guide the night wings
And on its lap I alone sleep –

Only the thoughts of you striking my mind
You have left and moved to a faraway place.
I am where I was, waiting.

The springtime has returned again
Stretching the eyes of hope wider and wider.
Though the flock of birds has returned from Mon
You’ve left permanently never to come back,

The gait of time hits against my eyelashes

Wails of the heart fall on my palms,
I am left staring into the blue skies

Teardrops languidly rim my eyes,
Letting this life fade to its closing stages
Wishing to reach the shores of the life beyond.
Wings of the heart stretch across the space
Where the strong wind howls in its borders.
I stand stiff near the river alone

Raising my hands high to signal
That if in time I do not go back,

I’ll sleep forever in this riverbed

Where my flesh and bones become offerings

To nourish budding trees and blossoming flowers.

(Note: Mon, the birthplace of the Sixth Dalai Lama, is located in Arunachal Pradesh.)

Lhasa Diary

Chen Metak

In a day, cold wind may blow,

A colourless and intangible wind

Rising through the openings in your stones,
On the walls of your house and iron fences,

Making hundreds of holes for spiders and scorpions to sneak in,
Fangs of darkness crowding in the dark holes will

Cut your sunrays into pieces,

Bringing the second black night
That even the lamps of your history cannot extinguish.

In a day, it may rain
Teardrop-like rain falling from your golden canopies
Hues of your white and red colours may turn

Into long bloody footprints left by scorpions,

Each imprint turning to a document,

Your emperors and princes will have

No stone pillars for their final testament, only elaborate tombs.

One day, from the walls of your water tombs
Yellow ducks will fly out in terror,

Singing you a skeleton-coloured poem

With a tiny little hole in it, and
Through this hole

You may be able to see once the world in which you live.

One day, a tongue of flame may shoot up from the crown of Iron Hill

The flame may hear the laments of your chained sunrays,
It may taste the sour air coming and going across the stone bridge,
Furthermore, it may feel the hunger of birds and fishes of Yarlung Tsangpo
It may see the sons and daughters of aristocrats decked in corals and turquoise.

One day, it is possible that I will see the white walls of Tsuglakhang

Hidden behind the garden of willow with its smooth walls,
It is possible that I will see the low terraces of the stone houses,
Seeing them I may have to follow your pointing finger to
A valley of history where the sunlight does not penetrate.
On a day like that

Silently I may call your name one more time.

(Note: The Yarlung Tsangpo, aka The Tachok Khabab, is the highest major river in the world, rising from a glacier near Mount Kailash in Western Tibet. The 2,900 kilometre-long river flows through the heartland of Tibet, including the Yarlung Valley, hence the name Yarlung Tsangpo. Yarlung Valley was the citadel of Tibetan civilisation and Tibet’s capital from about 127 BC to 630 AD. The river is a lifeline for Tibetans who farm along its banks.
 As it descends, the surrounding vegetation changes from cold desert to arid steppe to deciduous scrub vegetation and, ultimately, to a conifer and rhododendron forest. Sedimentary sandstone rocks found near Lhasa, Tibet’s capital city, contain grains of magnetic minerals that record the Earth’s alternating magnetic field current.
 The Yarlung Tsangpo flows in the world’s largest and deepest canyon, Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon, which is more than twice the depth of Colorado’s Grand Canyon. It flows into India and Bangladesh to become the mighty Brahmaputra river, finally emptying into the Bay of Bengal.

Do You Know The Tales Of Our Forefathers?

Dhi Lhaden

To my niece Gangzum,

Before the sun’s rays hit the smiling peaks
You are ready to hit the road.

Following the hooves of yak singing a sad song

With the day’s provisions stored in the fold of your chupa,
This is when my heart turns weak like the tunes of your song.

If you have to spend your life
On the plateau like animals in the wild,

I never want to say “Farewell” and leave.

Instead if I can turn you into a student holding a book and a pen
Will you be a girl in the service of our country?
Will you be a woman who loves her people?

Let me ask you:

Do you know the troubled tales of your forefathers?
Did you see their footprints in the mountains you roam?
Do you recognize the mountain peak

Where your forefathers’ vital blood dissolved?

Write this single word called “Freedom”

On the mountain peak where your forefathers have

Shed tears for livelihood and
Sacrificed their lives for their rights.

This will be your first proof to be with the people of the world
On an equal footing.

All poems translated by Bhuchung D Sonam.

Excerpted with permission from Burning the Sun’s Braids: New Poetry from Tibet, Blackneck Books.

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