Diana Woodcock

Year of Lhasa

Around the yaks’ necks, golden flecks of
sunlight fall on timbrel bells. Leavening
the city with prayer, pilgrims arrive each
day in droves. Dust clouds rise like incense
off unpaved roads. Monks chant prayers,
making ritual stairs to heaven from palace,
marketplace and monastery. Rancid yak
butter tea stinks in musty shops and cafes.

Wind whimpers through cracks in the wall.
Bits of sod roof fall onto our bed. All day the
dread of sunset and the cold of night. Dagger-
like icicles cling to laundry hung drying on
the balcony. Two Chinese men play elephant chess
while keeping one eye on us, the range
of the Himalayas wrapped round us all—stark
and gray save for their snow caps, each peak sharp
as the angel shark’s backward curving teeth.

All day pilgrims wind their way around the Jokhang
Temple, chanting and spinning hand-held prayer
wheels. Nowhere to go—this city always their
destination— they move in slow motion, some so
old or sick they’ve come to die in this sacred place.

Before nightfall, they settle by the river,
light their fires with yakpats, play homemade lutes
and reed pipes, drink butter tea while their yaks
graze and the haze of their fires rises like incense
over the river, drifting with their prayers and the
flashing shorebirds on the shifting wind across
the Himalayas and the closed border to the exiled
Dalai Lama.

Around the necks of the young girls, ivory
pearls of moonlight fall on stringed shells.
Every night every one of them dreaming
of that thousand-mile flight.

Diana Woodcock is the author of Swaying on the Elephant’s Shoulders, which won the 2010 Vernice Quebodeaux International Poetry Prize for Women and is forthcoming from Little Red Tree Publishing. Her three chapbooks include In the Shade of the Sidra Tree,), a nominee for the Library of Virginia poetry award (Finishing Line Press), Mandala (Foothills Publishing), and Travels of a Gwai Lo—the title poem of which was nominated for a Pushcart Prize by Toadlily Press. Currently teaching at Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar, she has lived and worked in Tibet, Macau and Thailand.

(author retains copyright)