Monday, April 20, 2009

Walking in Lhasa

The street is bare today
I can see the blue sky
And hear the voices of the dakinis

But the shops are closed tight
Leaving only their two language signs
With the Chinese letters always bigger

Our syllables hang like prayer flags
From the mala of a million mantras
Echoing into each mountain pass

I never forget the juniper incense, forbidden now
The prayer flags on the roof
Where the red flag flaunts its yellow stars

I can’t forget
My husband prostrating along here
Before he went to prison

Sigh. How long ago was it that
They let him come home to die?
His black eyes still gleaming

The soldiers at the end of the street
Do they know where they are?
Lhasa, the holy place, where a god once lived

Where so many gods still live
Except the ocean of wisdom
Who fled so long ago

I touched his robe as a girl
My hair in braids so tight on my scalp
I yelped at my mother that morning

The khata in my trembling hands
How long ago was that?
I shall never forget

The crane never flies to the evergreen
Since the soldiers came
They ate him for dinner, that beautiful bird

The snow leopard fled
The eagles and elk and reindeer
All of them meals for the soldiers

Vultures and crows keep their vigil now
Wait for them to die and leave this holy place
The birds will eat up every scrap, all but the bones

There they are, all dressed in black
With helmets to protect them from virtue
Do they know where they are?

Or are my old eyes deceiving me?
Are they just pilgrims, my kinfolk
Come to celebrate Losar?


This poem and painting were inspired by a photo taken March 14, 2009 that appeared on the Phayul website. The caption read that shops were closed and paramilitary and plainclothes police had established patrols and checkpoints throughout Lhasa on the first anniversary of the anti-Chinese riot.