Tears of the Vanquished


Photograph by Woeser, Lhasa, afternoon of February 20, 2022

Tears of the Vanquished

I stand at dusk, holding back tears

as the clouds gather and fill with color, 

knowing they’ll fade as the veil of night falls.

And, just as it did before the invasion, 

the dome of heaven burns a profound blue,

and, just as they did before the occupation, 

the clouds float, some big, others small,

some scattered, others piled thick.

The eight mountains that ring Lhasa

are likened to the eight petals of a lotus [1],

and one by one, except for the one 

now crippled by mining,

they begin to bloom.

I will never tire of gazing  

at their eternal nature.

I’m unwilling to lower my eyes

and sink into a world

that is more and more a foreign land.

Row by row, buildings rise

cage-like in a gray haste.

Row by row, water heaters 

shimmer from rooftops.

Row by row, the yellow cranes 

pivot slowly among the high-rises.

I choose to ignore them all,

choosing instead for 

the realm of my eyes to settle

on the structure of the Phodrang Potala.

From where I am, I cannot see 

its tapestry of old windows, 

nor the red flag with five stars.

I lift my eyes once again

to the backdrop of mountains

and then once again to the sky 

swirling with colorful clouds and mist.

It gradually grows dark,

no need to bother the gods 

about choosing or not choosing,

I sit like a monk, 

wrapped in crimson woolen robes, 

and meditate quietly and digest 

the truths of impermanence alone.

Darkness hides the ugliness and pain,

at times a dog barks,

it seems like a paradise lost,

it seems there is no way 

that what’s before me 

belongs to one of the four kalpas—

not that of formation, nor of existence, 

not of destruction, nor of emptiness [2]. 

It is essential that I see this clearly,

for I cannot live with the nostalgia 

of my own wishful thinking.

Rejoice in the great Phodrang 

that possesses heights unattainable 

by the wild ambitions of the world.

59 years ago, when the young Dalai Lama 

wandered from the Sunshine Apartments [3],

he must have witnessed an evening like this, 

so intimate and thoroughly of this place.

And has this memory appeared to him again,

mixing with his dreams while in exile?

In these glowing clouds, I see

all those who practice emptiness

slowly gathering with veneration and respect.

And I can only press my hands together in prayer

and shed tears of the vanquished.

—Tsering Woeser, April 21, 2018

(translated by Ian Boyden, March 15, 2022)


[1] In the Tibetan classics, the mountains around Lhasa are described as an “eight-petalled lotus.” These lines were inspired by the  lyrics of a ballad “The sky is an eight-spoked auspicious wheel / The earth is a blooming eight-petaled lotus.” —TW

[2] In the Buddhist conception of time, each eaon is broken into four temporal units called kalpas, each of the four is characterized by a dominant form of change in the world—formation, existence, destruction, and emptiness.—TW

[3] Sunshine Apartments: On the east side of the Potala Palace is the seven-storied white house, and the highest story holds what are known as the Eastern and Western Sunshine Apartments, which were the residence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. —TW

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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