Saturday, November 26, 2005

Day Seven


breastfeeding on the steps
temple hags beg

body as performance
illustrating desire’s dire results

upstairs testosterone chants in the hall

imagine those boys buttering
each the other up
hill of nervous goats behind

there’s a cloud of flies
at the temple’s door
here for the novelty of summer

gold highest to heaven
moss cleaves the stones
that hold the wall

a single bare bulb
hangs blankly

then you come upon the chapel
of five hundred monks chanting
like of scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark

proof of the despotism of orientalisms
you’re the voyeur leaning over
with digital camera, MP3, sketchbook

long nose in the primitives’ trough
from up here on the mezzanine
see monks and their mantras
and the less devout
sipping, chatting, swapping tales
swapping phones
incurring and repaying debts

overseen only by the tourist

a refuge in this
eyes of compassion
fellow feeling

then here come the Polish breasts on tour
‘tashidele,’ I say


the difference between superstition and religion
like the distance from money to cash

I put an ear to the ancient conch
I hear the world revolve

a tiger, a whole mandala of sand

to stand outside temples
taunting the faithful
whom would that be to mock?

the pilgrim as explorer
monastic slut
smell of the short cuts


on the prayer circuit
a sea of suffering
fed here and now by a river of rubbish

very postmodern

cattle around the cattle skull mound
model human obliviousness

the all-there-ever-is to depict
and is there any other kind?

‘you can go up little goat,’ she said

the etiquette of pilgrims is such
our self made guide grizzled
speaks unintelligibly
but with fervour

the pointing is a sop
sky home blue here

at last I recall it
the line which was lost

the pivot, the light
the mast
which would have lit the poem whole

what was it again?


broken glass crowns the weed high wall
enlightenment is not for all

the three o’clock gong

a report from the stellar regions
saved by the locked door

feet fall forward too – a circle, a mantra

fort da fort da
religion is repetition disorder

finding it can’t be the way

in the west it’s for those
too lazy for philosophy

surely it finds you just
en route
at your business

among all things already lost


a sleight
to claim existence not clung to


: these are the tricks to unfocus desire

comes down to
who’s got the best story

the wonder of all things
primitive as they seem
endow the mind with wonder

faith is what you won’t get round
it turns the world

live by it

but after all

because the breath is wanted yet
and laughter needs pause to resume


the dogma of poetry
let self efface

sutra of the mist descending
which ridges cannot rise beyond

faith is what you won’t get round
it turns the world
we live by it

back on the Bahkor

lice and nits among street vendors
call this a free exchange

‘money, money’
you hear descending
and it’s my language at last

hands out make the ‘gei wo’ sign
adding to this day’s universals

the crumpled form
the dirt clad shape
the old frail hand
which reaches out
to touch the one
I’ll wash ’ere long
I mean asap

last morning

clatter of motors
the day commencing
the rhythm deepens
like sweeping
like chanting on a higher plane
or sex on the floor above

Tibet’s yet to embrace the muffler

a cat tied to the washing line next door
lion like in ambition

this is Wednesday the incense day
weeds deemed aromatic
burn everywhere on the incense circuits

there’s abuse of the shopgirl’s
otherwise silence

taunt of the town in the smoke
which measures out the sky
to call its spirits home

China is an inalienable part of Tibet

without a name
you go to the lama
the higher the better

he’ll give you one

you build a road
you plan to stay
there’s no apology

green of high summer
cloud taller and taller

uncanny the knack of blocking the path
of those just behind you

of turning pristine marble to muck

now that the sack of the city is done
ah but they’ll say – no city before

the jade spittoon of hoary tradition
mucus the colour of jade set in motion
commemorates the friendly conquests

the world’s bright rooftiles
and higher still
the temple jewels
stupa treasures

note the locals

prostrate before the Potala
crowding out the footpath

before the rough timber hoarding
behind which the fortieth anniversary
party dignitaries on their podium
will backdrop the Potala
all China’s long tradition

for this week all tourist permits cancelled

ignorance and superstition
the chicken and egg business
can neither be accounted nor discounted

how colourful those tribes
nation makes various


one muzak there is
below all others
tunes the soul to what is, will be
devised it is and unintended

in heavy traffic
in dense smog
the man with the cured pig legs
six of them in the basket
back of his bike
sways and leans
and finally pulls over
to improve his mobile reception

not even you, my reader
can find this remarkable

Day Seven

day seven

a shell to the sea
hear the river run there

ridiculous wishes
sustain the mind wandering
which is the way it goes

one day’s thought leaks into the next
the motion of the wheel accounted
not in steps taken but intended

by morning the dreaming mind
has made each bleat of the goat
the sound of someone throwing up

and why is this goat here anyway?

who cares?

distraction’s welcome
and bowels in sync at last

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Day Six

Drepung monastery

snot nose temple brats
mindful of
the mantra magic
work their charms
on the up toiling tourist

water tears off the mountain
turns a wheel in the stream

the creek with prayer flags knotted below

best to build your monastery
high on a hill
not only for the vista
but to have the invaders
puffed when they come
so slower, so easier to pick off
that way you’ll be able to go on
most of the time enjoying the view

butter is the nation’s fuel
and we breathlessly await butter powered vehicles
to bear us up the endless stairs
provided as if to prove vain
efforts at enlightenment

leave the butter in the fridge
give me a pair of Tibetan lungs
big mountain heart

the truth, I can take it
these lamas are wisdom incarnate
that’s wisdom of the inherited kind

pilgrims bring butter to keep the lamps burning

monks scrape butter back
make space for more

in the temple
monkeys in karma pyjamas
turn cash into merit –
of the old icy waters

the temple strewn with yi jiao notes
each of which bears pictures of determined tribesfolk
looking hopefully left to the future

how can the face of Matreiya be known?

bitter tears of the child with no cash from me
here’s the authentic I came for

but rules are rules – today my change is only for buskers

and so now I am privileged to see
all the stages of a tantrum
how expert the acting
the heart in it all

everything bends till it breaks
till it’s broken
the wheel can be expected to turn
in our eyes
foot after foot


by I am a tourist and as such
take refuge where there is a tap
make my hands clean again

imagine a race of aliens comes
nothing they can’t have
or we won’t give

you forget where you are
hear the wheels
you forget
which stairs you came up
which walls came apart

behind us the mud grows over again
monks here mainly are counting cash
which somewhere no doubt is dispensed

so playful
can we call it religion?

playing at praying
just look at these lads
mum with the butter thermos
these two tumbling
with the monks
on their beds

at the highest point a lama blesses me
he ties a charm around my neck
wu kwai
it’s all downhill from there

Lhasa satori series

after the 5 kwai blessing and amulet
breathing improved
but I discovered I still had the runs
after all


on the bus I learn
the Lhasa cigarette is much closer to incense
than anything you’ve smoked before
three puffs to the stick
passive smoking on the high plateau
it’s really a comradely thing


and in bed breathless
to get out the mantra of tantra
enticements of the lower peaks
those sea level endearments
we all love so well


rain like the footsteps
of everyone everywhere

a planet lost
in puddled light

bicycle wheels churn home

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Day Six

Day Six

the meditation on decay – travel version

neither has it killed me
nor made me strong
still one feels good to feel good
alive alive
such are the tricks of unceasing desire

the body is a porous prison
bars of the soul lie always beyond

rain won’t daunt me
cloud like a white scarf
draped through the mountains

like a welcome, a rite of purification
foregrounding flight
the birds attend it

summer snow
and the river runs
from a distance

all courses down

the landscape is a tankha too

silk covered
sky mirrored
in soul and above

so let it be
with our sphincters


though rancid butter is a help
and can always be left
in the sun as required
the meditation on decay
as advised in the sutras
is best effected by proximity
to human faeces

how hard can it be?
the stuff’s always with us

the serious pilgrim tourist
can take away
a shit censer
to swing around at home
when the air gets too fresh

smoke and rancid butter
mingled rise

an aerosol version is being developed
though the irony of such a product
may yet be lost on the more zealous consumer

point is
something’s got to be got
out of the system

oxygen juice – the latest drink
freshly squeezed from the air

it’s angry demons emerge from my bottom
proving the path to enlightenment nigh

Lhasa today

the Chinese town thrown over the prayer wheel
mandala of how the world has to be

flags are their own means of production
peasant and soldier and scholar are one

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Day Five

Day Five


a day’s fast on roof tiles

among the street’s calls

it was a fitful sleep brought me

ineffably distant hills

the pavement smoking

call dusk

mists wreathe

in mountainous day

edges dull green

damp in the courtyard below

watch birds diving

out of rooftops rising


all red flags now

fresh at the breezes

how tawdry old prayers

limp swaying in clouds

sign the decaying order

by the window opposite

man of my age sits smoking

child in the window too

bobbing agitated as if full of questions

behind – a wife cooking

all the one room

refuge in bed

for the loose bowelled voyeur

smoke manages its way to clouds

as if there were no distance at all

hear rain on a tin roof

telling me home

beggars of Lhasa

elbow pinchers


great unwashed

ingenious folk

hard to see how they do it

where the limbs and the timber attach

to what end

meld with the pilgrims

who will say they are not?

I place a biscuit in the beggar’s bowl

discover the child

only seemed to be hungry

the busking chant

which makes pilgrim mendicant

or is it the other way around?

the way won’t be told

nor will names be named

so why not sit down in the road

take what comes?

compassion is all we humans require

it has to be bodied, a home

a traveller’s tale

meet Constipated Woman, meet Mr Squirt –

a third world travelling Jack Sprat and wife

toyed with the idea of a swap

but it’s best in the end to own your own ailments

dizzy days

on the tiles

sun struck

wind driven

weary we take the Jokhang circuit

old Lhasa hands now

see the black faced sheep

bleat for high pasture

take off the pressure and nothing runs right

even this Rolls Royce

of cheap Chinese fountain pens –

this hero

behaves erratically

now it’s come to the great wall

I have in mind

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Day Four

the Tibet museum

Its celestial poise since antiquity never fails to agitate our patriotic pride.
– first caption in English on the wall walking in

high cheekbones on the high plateau
close to the ancestral grounds

it is the land of the talking calculator
Duo xiao chien? – they scrabble for the battery
when white faces loom

sky-scraping tablelands
something to shrug off

lofty mountains, torrential rivers
welcome you – honourable guest

history is marching into us here
glorious comradely history
future as wry as the past

join up the dots
in any tongue – progress!
yes it takes patience
what else have we got?

the streets are a museum too
of wheel and hoof
getting gone

I’ve never seen so many solar powered kettles
midsummer and still
I’ve never seen one come to the boil

ten p.m.

pilgrims abed
streets belong to tourists and taxis
street vendors pack the world’s treasure away

it’s only the hard core devout
prostrate now
around the Barkhor,
around the Jokhang
around the clock
they go

two pilgrims even
cover the circuit with synchronised prostrations
which could be Tibet’s contribution to Olympic culture
and why not?
safety in numbers, moral support

surely the truly devout wait for winter?


summer palace of the Dalai Lamas

the playground in ruins
the prayer flags still fly

first chapel features
that girl
with her head
in a tizz
her hands
full of cash,
turning made easy
with that many arms

midtemple the bee loud buzz
meditation finding its public

which next on the circuit
accosts authentic
peasant songs
work chants
they chew gum while they’re singing
you try it

they’re rebuilding the palace
beating the mud roof home

I catch
outpouring of these lungs
with MP3

silence of bicycle
below feet of passage

they’re noted
on paper
and blog into book
the great museum of mind
files all

precincts of temple
just next door to zoo

where cruelty finds objects truly other

how can compassion take human form?
What other form would it find?


so many palanquins, carriages
gridlock in the garage

marigold, sweet William
unknown flowers
grace the paths
time is strange here

incense and butter lamps
make rancid faint breath

two tiny stone pandas
supplicate for our rubbish


the summer palace
just as he left it
bath still running
BBC in its walnut static
Mary Celeste of
the eastern theocracy

whence the 14th Dalai Lama (the present)
fled into the self help wonderland of the West


small boys tugging robes between cartwheels
monks good humoured in their roles
as tolerance insists

stuffed tiger in the temple
the devoted lamps
burn on

prayers butter gods up

experience is appropriation
what else can machines of desiring do?

the playground is at prayer with its ages
flags fly ruined in the sky

Day Four

so many dream tracks
this one night
the bath runs
kettle boils

outside the chanting
more melodic than ever
voices of women

sleep leans in
these many tracks

climbing stairs like a young man again

dreaming the sea,
of sea levelling
billow bright

sun slanting
wake to the full orchestra
mist lifting, cymbal

then cloud smog grey
in the highest

traffic’s dull rhythm
the all accompanying
modernity of place

so tiring to talk

leaves the tourist annoyed
how cold was your shoulder?
disappointing to find foreigners
in Lhasa

meet them on stairs
descending to breakfast
I’m the man who wasn’t there
tomorrow – won’t it be the same?

they’ve taken the complaint
against their kind
to the highest level

won’t even avert eyes
throw back more of accusation
against fellow feeling
too tough for the suffered comforts round here
shouldn’t they be staying at the Cesspit Hotel
or the La Du Zi Lu Dian?

the Lonely Planet tells such a story:
a woman lost her footing, fell in the pit
and a day in the bath
new clothes head to toe
had a hard time thereafter
parting with her shit smelling money

we fortunate others
keep puffing as if
there were merely
bad air to expel

Friday, November 04, 2005

Day Three


every day here
the practice of breathlessness

one drum in this temple beats against
irrelevance of time

first light shows
a team of craftsmen
have fashioned my room

the cornices Nepali colours
orange, green, bright blue, bright yellow

someone had to have the money for this
(the sacred made profane)
all of which points to another invasion

the West’s – new Reich of the groove minded mystic
health conscious, how they pick here like sparrows

like that spoilt boy Gautama
who’d never seen suffering

nothing is good enough for
the Babel grumbling legion
among whom number me
because there’s
no amount of objectification
gets me off the list

against breathlessness
silence as practice

heart less pumping
nothing slows the chatter
mind to its drum
runs on

the Dhod Gu Hotel

a western orientalism

first fly of day
its paws at rub
to waking light
always preparing

room burnished within
the cornices all gold adorned
indeterminate face

all morning to get up
to get the hang of
prayer flags at flutter
washing on lines

outside the world adorned in mists

unknown motors hailing
through windows

the Dhod Gu Hotel has no lift
climbing those stairs
twenty years older
what better meditation
on decay to come

at the top of the stairs
a basin scraped from the mountains around
as where a dog came burying

rancid risings of the street
even to this fourth floor height

down there the police
red epaulettes, black caps
at table singing, whistling
all stages between
breakfast in steam
the whistling stops

for breath must be
caught with breakfast

Bahkor Circuit

how to breathe in the smoke that is offered
(Wednesday is incense day)

kup hei fu hei
in Cantonese

attention is drawn
where nothing should be

the Barkhor circuit – shop lined
stalled arrangement of temptations
against which true pilgrims are proof

there are plenty of fakes here
everyone’s telling me

see the man beating his child
with the prayer beads
and to be fair
he’s beating himself as well

on every shopfront
flags of the nation

on every rooftop
prayer flags rot

like prayer
like feet falling endlessly on

aum mane padme aum


the hive of Lhasa
wheel unto itself

the other worlds have overtaken
this our world
blameless remains

as always
light cast through smoke
mote beam

before the Jokhang main gate
throng of prostrators
crowd of cameras behind

best to bring your own bedding for the job
cardboard knee protection
gardening gloves

a thousand Buddhas watching the thieves
watching the crowd

blue sky through the wheel

always higher to climb


gold glints in the darkness
there’s always an opening

prostrate before the Jokhang

perpetual motion

a line dance to the holiest corners
thermos and prayer wheel
each keeping hold

low hum like a hive
the mantra is moving
butter lamps burn ever on


who is the more transgressive?
which thou least holy?

the old Tibetan man washing his raw corn
from the holy tap
tourists washing hands over his corn
the girl with a camera who catches it all
monk unconcerned brushing by
the foreign devil with the pen
who gets it all down
your reading eye
mind behind that
all second guessing
perpetual motion

oiling the prayer wheels
but that’s not enough
another devotee comes behind
with a rag for the drips


a slit in the roof whence the pilgrim’s proceeding

devotion needs must be public performance
selves lost in the forward flow

light of day above the dark
a moment’s calm in the smoke

nothing unpainted
nothing uncarved

on the roof with his mobile
where cameras blaze
their here and now
thus mock the eternal
mocks them

between her face and the lens
the old woman holds her prayer wheel

a refuge in the dharma there


a spin together

they’re a wheel
we’re a wheel
spun and spinning
done, beginning

by cloisters beside
come sudden calm
ruined chanting
rickety echo

colours subdued here

worship is public performance
tashidele with monks we whisper

enlightenment strides out of light
through doorway
clears the throat to spit

crowd at a distance
merely mumble
seeming stillness
yet it flows


the mountains too in prayers are wreathed

everything sewn together

the tourist not knowing which way to turn

gorgeous the images
lean every way

blue sky through the wheel

there’s always a higher level
and when you’re finished climbing
see how the sky still keeps at its distance

blue greys into smoke

dark of streets lost
last shutters come down

at Dunya’s
– on Beijing Donglu

place of refuge
drink altitude tea
before going home
to the oxygen pillow

on streets of Lhasa
the lungs are never filled
the throat is never cleared

on Beijing Donglu
at Dunya’s
world away

I seek refuge from the filthy air
the crowds of pilgrims
their lice
and the more microscopic lice tormentors

unwelcome tenants of the gut
let me be no refuge for

bring me the coconut lassi!

this is the life

this is the life
artengaging as we go
it’s everywhere
we are
and never get
without which
what’s the bother