Poems

Prayerflags from Dharamsala

 

Rangzen

 

The activist Tsundue, who wears a red scarf

is the man I've come to meet at Rangzen ashram,

in the shadow of Gorijnda, Parvati's mountain.

 

He speaks of human bones on the steppes to Tibet,

escape routes, border towns where he was detained,

house arrests, months before the Bejing Olympics.

 

My fingers caress a cigarette. I watch censored

documentaries, a film by Dhondup Wangchen,

imprisoned now, in Lhasa, with 1200 missing.

 

And Philippe, whose book records the resistance

to Chinese mining is counting on the Dalai Lama's

editorial, sufficient perhaps to sway the neo-liberals.

 

We drink whiskey, we huddle in coats as the sun

lingers before it sinks below the Dhauladhur spur.

My memory card is blank, my photographs lost,

 

but there are voices in the darkness, eyes without

faces: Acha, Nyingje, Lobsang, Hip Hop, Army.

Émigrés, mostly, we are harried by quotidian gods.

 

Dusk covers our bones in tumuli. Wind brakes/

the nocturnal trees, our motorbikes swerve as           

we drive to the edge of the steep, sliding road.

 

 

Nasreen

 

The moon spills her mettle through the pines,

silhouetted conifers scrape the night sky,

the guesthouse cloaked as I stumble home.

 

My instinct fails and I take a wrong turn,

climbing the scrub-ravine by a torchlight.

The men in the village are dizzy with joy. 

 

My room is just the same, walls screaming

with silence. I turn on my laptop, fiddle with

a death lyric as revelries echo in the valley.

 

Nasreen serves chai and sweet rice. He is tipsy.

We talk in a nervous patois of English-Hindi,

in a voice that retreats from its subject, before

 

it can ever be defined. I begin my endless

revisions, to modify clauses, edit adjectives,  

until my hands are too numb to type. I smoke.

 

Count falling stars. From the balcony I watch

the vapour of my breath vanish, the cigarette's

ember in the pin-cold night. Perhaps for solace

 

I charge my phone. Sleep in a throw of blankets,

the room dusty, with peeling paint, a broken

window, and a shy spider, the size of my hand.

 

 

Lung-Ta

 

If I drift towards the space between now,

and my own Shangri-La, the shadows

have names. They speak another language.

 

At breakfast I watch the glistening

wingspan of a koel curve through the forest,

The pines disguise their idiom of crows.

 

I feed cake crumbs to the pied finches

who enter my room, leave the crumbs 

untouched and fly out with winged precision.

 

School children climb the hill to Dharamkot.

Gypsy donkeys decked with bells and bags

of cement shamble to a new construction site.

 

All day the scoop of shovels. Lean women

toil to feed their children. I scrawl a few lines,

the incense burning into broken strings of ash.

 

 

 Fakir

 

Maybe this is a story about the photographs

of Tsundue, Rangzen, Dussehra, each touristic

moment gone. Maybe it's about the word freedom.

 

Or maybe it's about the eyes without faces,

the ones that stay open, refusing to dream

when lips are sewn by moonlight's threads.

 

Prayer flags float over the drunken town.

A child cries in the valley. There's a blind beggar

on the noisy chaos of the street, with its hawkers

 

and cycle rickshaws as boys rev their motorbikes

past Guru Nanak's store. I pursue him with an urge

to taste the darkness he walks, which feeds him.

 

 

Notes

 

Gorijunda: the name given to Parvati's mountain in Himachal Pradesh

   Lung-ta: a horizontal Tibetan prayer flag, meaning "wind horse" in Tibetan

Rangzen: meaning "freedom" in Tibetan

fakir: beggar

Guru Nanak: a chain of hardware stores found in Northern India and named after the
famous Sikh guru.

 

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