Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Bahkor circuit

every day
the wheel desiring
round we go

the Buddhist shoppers’ paradise
nirvana this for tourists too

whistling street of bicycle taxis
rancid with wafting smoke
of the butter lamps

devotion colours days with smog

joy in the mantras
prayer flags blacken

all this from the tourists’ rooftops

Bakhor – the endless wheel – desire
venerated in objects of devotion

they’re the kind you take home
hang on wall
or round the neck to travel
spiritual calm you bring your corner
drawing to it eternity’s dust
and pack away in a drawer at last

under hats of every colour
dark jowls
fingers press cloth across the machine
the lamps burn on

let us loosen the imagery
or call that appropriating

hear tractors plough through city streets

Lhasa – goat city
rain recedes but mist clings on
smoke rises to the challenge

it’s feet which turn the wheel
feet the without which
wishing’s done for

feet – the slaves
of desire and devotion


night comes singing
from the streets below
shouts musical too
and the dogs’ dull percussion
something competitive
in and of the throat
as if they had learned
how to strangle each other

rain and the night take up

kingdom of theocrats
each to the eternal submitting

image of Matreya

Potala 2

behind the hoardings for the celebration
of so much Tibetan autonomy

across the road from the Agricultural Bank
where none of the auto-tellers play today

ringed by its smoke wreathed circuit of stalls
carpet shops, pilgrims prostrating

pile of stones for the fifty kwai note
wu shi ren min bi

Day Two Potala

Potala 1

anyone can see
these peasants were needful of liberation

from feudal superstition
from overlord rantings

look at the palace of chapels
devotion cascading
down the stone hill

hands threw all this up
they did it
by way of their thrall –
call devotion

in the land of snows
a lion throne

anyone can see here
handprints of the fifth Dalai Lama
footprints too
small but powerful

compassion can leave an impression
so can cold cash

how many tonnes of gold
still rest in the fifth’s
gorgeous tomb stupa?

white rabbits and golden monkeys
guide us through the Potala

to the snake room
aptly named for
the tantra tantrums here enacted

wakey wakey!
everything as the boy lama left it
except for the drifting veneer
of change renewed ever
in small notes from China

it was the fifth’s short lived successor who
could piss from the top of the Potala
and exercise such tantric acumen
that he could draw the urine
back up into himself
just before it hit the ground

he whom the Jesuit described
in terms of unbridled licentiousness
‘from whom no good looking person
of either sex was safe’

the seventh is famous for the sand mandala
has to be kept under glass

there’s centuries of strange time here –
all under eternity’s emblem

what if this tomb were the poor’s only joy?
this cave of sky here the only thing theirs

what if just this one opiate worked,
the other dull uniforms bromide?

anyone can see
these peasants needful of liberation
from overlord rantings
conception’s flat wheel

still turning and turning
home into dreams
the pilgrim’s way made

white rabbit and golden monkey
sweet magic dissolving in us

we dissolving
step by step down
like a woollen flag
from heaven
for winter
till no one
the steps
at all

call that
a liberation

in memory of that lovable rake
the sixth Dalai Lama

bring on the wisdom girls
tiger and apple

call me king if you like
high priest you prefer?

the bar-girl and the beer my refuge

‘as long as the pale moon
dwells on the mountain
bliss from the female form
is mine’

o I’ll come back as a handful of dust
but for the moment compassion’s form
suggests an earthier boyish norm
or you might call it lust

Monday, October 10, 2005

Day Two


in early hours it comes
high wind on the high plain

in memory of skies long since
dawn improvised
from night’s spare parts

windows storm rattled
mist to light
sound of sweeping in the courtyard
first flies adorn the casement

then when the rain settles
gentle on the world below

voice of a goat from city depths


a tankha is a mirror
picture of the striving self
the Buddha you will be
or would

desiring to avert desire
brings on selves far other

pinch yourself – be here
be sunk
be these your depths

in the city
everyone can haggle
for tankha
the kind mechanically made
authentic peasantry’s devotion
authentic bourgeois decoration

the drum in your temple
beats against
time’s irrelevance

tankhas come with silky covers
so that the devotee
need not be frightened
by the mirror
she’s making

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Day One


the wind mistaken for the rain
down to the smell
of strange light on rooftops

as if the world’s brightness
were turned up

beginning of the world a storm
no thing to know then
no one to know

a wrinkled folk
squinting with
storm in the cloud sea

from which the world churned
clouds like milk
world butter below

a king thereafter cord descending
rights divine assumed

or there is this other cast
a monkey and these breasts misshapen
vulva from which tribes are sprung

the monkey was Chenrezig
from his compassion
all descended into human form


landing here
already an hour of the day absented

all the way from the airport
hands held out
mushrooms offered
red flags
show happy peasants home

selling the season
shells of homes
the hills alive with nomad tribes

and later with the hour retrieved
the same or subtly changed

then the wheel begins

a turn around the Barkhor
filthy without touching a thing

breathless just turning in the bath
just standing, drinking water
breathless just breathing


sky of nights never come

monks on mobiles
circle the Jokhang

Samsara then – the suffering sea
because the world was wished to be

slow into the mountains, stumble
hungering for breath

you can’t expect enlightenment on the first day

lose an hour
but the clock takes us in
top of the world smells of shit

I frame the advertisement
it says
‘Come to Tibet! Feel twenty years older!
Climbing stairs here is like climbing a ladder!
Feel like a mountain climber! Come to Tibet!’