Flames of My Homeland


Two images by Tomoyo Ihaya. To the left, a painting For Pema Gyaltsen, 24 yrs old, who self immolated in Nyarong, Kham, Tibet on March 18 2017. To the right, a painting for Wangchuk Tseten, a 30 yrs old nomad, who self immolated on April 15th in Gump County, Kardze , Kham, Tibet. You can see more of her paintings here: http://tomoyoihaya.blogspot.com/

[This poem was originally published by Radio Free Asia on April 2, 2017.]

Flames of My Homeland


March is peculiar.

The sweeping winds are long in coming,

and dust-filled air obscures a flame

in my homeland.

From where I sit, my view is limited,

the flame bright then dark.

But even if I were nearby

I couldn’t approach it.

To behold such a sight

would break my heart.


Even more houses destroyed

by an invisible hand.

Even more prayers disappeared

in the din of harsh and alien accents.

Even more pillaging and unstoppable negotiations.

Drifting, destitute and homeless.

This world of dust, a story

full of grief.


From where I sit

at the window

on the twenty-first floor of a high-rise,

it is as though I’ve placed myself

in a perilous frame

of the twenty-first century.

No need to distance myself.

The flames are almost within reach

but obscure.


Outside the window, the poison air

seethes and boils.

No wonder all the living creatures

of this country rot

one after another.


I bow my head to record

my homeland’s flames

that spark suddenly and extinguish suddenly.

One by one by one, one hundred fifty-

two flames and counting, unstoppable.[1]

But there’s not a sound to be heard.

I think of the poet Pasternak,[2]

who wrote “dipping my pen into ink,

I cannot help

but cry.”


And I also see this:

in the ashes,

a reborn soul

beautiful beyond compare.




           March 25,2017, Beijing


[1] The flames in this poemare the flames of Tibetan self-immolators. Since 2008, a wave ofself-immolation has swept across Tibet, to date 152 individuals have burnedthemselves alive, many of them Buddhist monks. The majority of theseself-immolations have been expressions of political protest against China’soccupation of Tibet, as well as its oppression and systematic destruction ofTibetan culture. Woeser discusses this topic in her extraordinary book Tibet on Fire (Verso Books, 2016).


[2] This line is from BorisPasternak’s poem “February” written in 1912. There are many translations ofthis poem into English, however, they are all quite different from how the poemwas rendered in Chinese. So, to this end, I have translated the Chinese translationof this poem, as it carries a tone not present in English translations madedirectly from the original Russian.

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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