Revolutionary Fire


Red Guards burning the scriptures of Jokhang Temple, August 24, 1966. Photograph by Woeser's father Tsering Dorje.

Revolutionary Fire

I was born into this world,

just as the Cultural Revolution descended

like a hurricane from Beijing,

engulfing Lhasa in the violent winds of reform.

I only remember the changes,

the alienation under a red flag,

how I could only become one of them

as I grew up in the schism.

Not only do I not remember

how the fires, ignited by that hurricane, burned,

nor the sequence of the burning,

I also have no memory

of earlier revolutionary fires.

The burning was not limited to one place—

it was everywhere.

Each curling flame opens

into an interminable blank space,

another hellish lacuna in the pages of history.

Through these chasms of raging fire,

I see the Norbulinka on March 17, 1959.

I see the Potala Palace on March 10, 1959.

I see tears overflowing:

the anguish over the violent

death of my relatives and my people,

the grief of His Holiness the Dalai Lama

as he fled in the middle of the night.

I grieve.

Each day the losses become greater,

as does my sense of impotence

to bring any of this back.

Even the vultures,

who are not of this godless world,

covered their faces and took flight.

It was declared that sky burials

were part of “the four olds,”

a custom to be eradicated.

The corpses, piled for years

upon on sky burial platforms

overlooking the Sera Monastery,

immediately disappeared.

—Woeser, July 9, 2016

Translated by Ian Boyden

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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