A Few Details and Memories


Himalayan griffon vulture (Gyps himalayensis). Photographed by Woeser at the Drigung Thil Monastery, Maizhokunggar County, Lhasa, Tibet, 2004.

A Few Details and Memories


A low-flying griffon

        appears neither in a troubled hurry 

        nor neglectfully slow.

A Tibetan mastiff, 

        nailed to a wall, has already been skinned.

A line of sheep, 

        dangling from a tree branch,

        half of each carcass is all that remains. 

A pair of wrinkled breasts 

        resemble empty pockets.

A child 

        looking at the empty sky—

        why is she unable to roll her eyes?



        faces covered by white masks, 

        black masks, floral masks.


        the streets are full of advertisements 

        revealing the inscrutable eyes of Big Brother.

There’s a herdsman 

        wrapped in a Tibetan robe 

        and wearing a chingdrol makmi [1] hat—

        he’s like a wild yak that’s been domesticated.

A string of star and moon Bodhi beads 

        decorated with gold and precious stones 

        has yet to be polished 

        with the lustrous patina of a devout hand.

I like the man who returned home 

        with the bronze statue of Guanyin in his arms, 

        I like his great wisdom and foolishness.


Gradually, I see the places that are disappearing:

The Sungchora [2], 

        where he debated scriptures day after day, 

        where the sounds of his hands touching together 

        filled one’s heart;

The Kuma Lingka [3]

        and its numerous prayer flags 

        that hung from both sides of the bridge, 

        so pleasing to the eye;

The Barkhor [4], 

        with all its windows reflecting 

        glimmering flames of butter lamps

        lit in honor of the Ganden Ngamchö [5]; 

Yabzhi Taktser [6], 

        oh Yabzhi Taktser, 

        you will choke back tears 

        when you utter these syllables.


Gradually, I see the beings who are disappearing:

the man with a hooked nose, 

        braiding his long hair 

        in the sunshine of Zhidé Ling [7];

the woman with a dimpled chin, 

        who smiled like an owl 

        in a crowd of people 

        thronging into the Tromzikhang [8];

the monk carrying a dharma drum, 

        who walked quickly, with troubled steps 

        through the highland barley fields 

        waiting to be harvested on the outskirts of town;

the Rinpoche [9], who in a previous life 

        was dragged by invaders on horseback 

        and left bloody and mutilated.


How long has it been 

        that I have not been allowed to return to Lhasa?

I seem to remember I once walked that dusty road.

It seems I have seen those pilgrims, 

        who, every three steps, prostrate 

        the full length of their body on the ground.

And the woman wearing glasses, 

        the one who is riding a bicycle hurriedly 

        between those pilgrims, 

        is that me?

Her expression seems one of indifference, 

        but also like fear, 

        no, it’s like she has accidentally 

        witnessed a massacre...

—Woeser, October 9, 2017

Translated by Ian Boyden, February 29, 2024 [10]

[1] chingdrol makmi (བཅིངས་འགྲོལ་དམག་མི་) is a Tibetan term for the People’s Liberation Army of the P.R.C.
[2] Sungchora (ཆོས་སྟོན་ར་བ།) is a lecture hall south of the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa.
[3] Kuma Lingka (རྐུན་མ་གླིང་ཁ།།) is a place along the Lhasa River commonly known as the "Thief's Forest Garden." It is now renamed Xianzu Island and is covered with residential communities, restaurants, hotels, etc.
[4] Barkhor (བར་སྐོར།) is a prayer path that circles of the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa.
[5] Ganden Ngamchö (དགའ་ལྡན་ལྔ་མཆོད།) is a traditional Tibetan religious festival commemorating the Tibetan Buddhist master Tsongkhapa. It has been translated into Chinese as the "Lightning Festival."
[6] Yabzhi Taktser (ཡབ་གཞིས་སྟག་འཚེར།) is the name of the family of the 14th Dalai Lama. According to tradition, it is also the name of the residence of the venerable family in Lhasa. This house fell into ruin, and in recent years the ruins were demolished and replaced with a new house built in the original aristocratic architectural style.
[7] Zhidé Ling (བཞི་སྡེ་གླིང་) was an important monastery of the Gelug Sect of Tibetan Buddhism in Lhasa that was destroyed during the 1959 invasion and the cultural revolution.  In recent years, the ruins were demolished and covered with new houses built in the style of the old monastic architecture.
[8] Tromzikhang (ཁྲོམ་གཟིགས་ཁང་) is a small wholesale market located on Beijing East Road in the old city of Lhasa.
[9] Rinpoche (རིན་པོ་ཆེ།) means “treasure,” and is is an honorific title for eminent reincarnated monks within Tibetan Buddhism.

[10] Translator’s note: All of the footnotes above are by Woeser and are to be understood as part of the poem itself. The following note is my own, and is not part of the poem. Griffon refers to the Himalayan griffon vulture (Gyps himalayensis), which is the bird in the photograph that accompanies this poem. They are sacred birds in Tibet, with strong associations with sky burial sites. I could only ascertain what bird she was referring to by asking Woeser herself, because the Chinese term she used is not a scientific name, but rather a Chinese term that refers to a spectrum of vultures and raptors. I asked Woeser if this bird should be read as a metaphor, to which she said no, that it was the sight of one flying that inspired her to write the poem. Asking her if perhaps she would want to use the Tibetan name for this bird, jagö (བྱ་རྒོད།), she replied, no, I would rather they say the Tibetan words I highlighted in this poem. The Tibetan Mastiff is not actually a mastiff, rather it belongs to what are known as “mountain dogs.” The use of the term mastiff for these dogs is now, of course, common, but it should be remembered that this term is actually a fragment of a British or perhaps larger European colonial or imperialist mindset. Similarly, the Chinese term Woeser uses for this dog (獒) appears to refer to a type of fierce hunting dog endemic to the Yellow River basin, likely a predecessor to the modern Shar Pei, thus it, too, is a similar form of linguistic fragment. There are several endemic Tibetan names for this dog, the most common being drok khyi (འབྲོག་ཁྱི), which means “nomad dog.” 





























[1] 金珠玛米:བཅིངས་འགྲོལ་དམག་མི་chingdrol makmi,指中共军队解放军。

[2] 松却绕瓦:ཆོས་སྟོན་ར་བ། Sungchora,拉萨大昭寺南面的讲经场。

[3] 古玛林卡:རྐུན་མ་གླིང་ཁ།། Kuma Lingka,拉萨河边俗称“小偷林苑”之处,如今更名仙足岛,建有住宅小区、饭馆、酒店等。

[4] 甘丹安曲:དགའ་ལྡན་ལྔ་མཆོད། Ganden Ngamchoe,西藏传统宗教节日,汉译“燃灯节”,以纪念藏传佛教宗师宗喀巴。

[5] 帕廓:བར་སྐོར། Pargor,拉萨老城环绕大昭寺的中圈转经道。

[6] 尧西达孜:ཡབ་གཞིས་སྟག་འཚེར། Yapzhi Taktser,十四世达赖喇嘛的家族之名,依传统也是房名,即尊者家族在拉萨的府邸,已废墟化,近年废墟被拆除,重盖贵族建筑式样的房子。

[7] 喜德林:བཞི་སྡེ་གྲྭ་ཚང་། Zhidé Ling,又称喜德扎仓,藏传佛教格鲁派在拉萨重要的经学院,毁于1959年的“平叛”、文化大革命及之后,近年废墟被拆除,重盖寺院建筑式样的房子。

[8] 冲赛康:ཁྲོམ་གཟིགས་ཁང་། Tromzikhang,这里指位于拉萨老城北京东路的小商品及批发市场。

[9] 仁波切:རིན་པོ་ཆེ། Rinpoche,,意为珍宝,通常也是对藏传佛教转世高僧的尊称。

Constellations of Humanity

Each luminous dot on this map represents one reader of this poem. As the number of readers increases, the stars begin to cluster and form an increasingly detailed constellation. My intent is to show how brightly a poem glows across our world. I welcome your light.

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