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Manoa 12.2 (2000) 16-17

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Snow Mountain Tears


Don't know when it happens:
A boisterous nation
Suddenly loses its voice, loses its breath.
People forget its vigorous story,
Leaving only an endless expanse of snow
And the offering
of a sky-blotting, earth-covering white scarf.

Diligent          Brave       Unsophisticated
   Wild          Ignorant          Backward
The offhand comments of thoughtless people.

A thousand years of labor and suffering
Obscured by the mists of history,
Now lie motionless beneath the deep, deep snows,
A reminder of acts of boldness long since past.
The roars of those who fought for the Central Plains,
The force of those whose horses drank from the Yangtze,
The majesty of those who held sway over Ba and Shu,
The magnificence of the colored-pottery culture,
All are now so distant.
Your soul is trapped in chasms in the frozen snow,

History--ah, history!
Why have you laid your head down to sleep here?
If the ascendance of the Tibetan empire
Had continued to spread into the heavens like the stars
It would have been absorbed into the vast emptiness of the night.
The Land of Snows is like a fur coat torn from a rabid dog
Faded and fallen in a desolate corner of the universe. [End Page 16]

Ah--there is only a clay princess
In the smokey mist of the incense flame
Eternally staring at her distant homeland.
An endless expanse of wilderness, without change.
Civilization lies in the difficult trek through the snowy peaks.
My emaciated male elders
Light a hundred thousand butter lamps,
Walk out of the temple full of brilliance
And begin to shudder on the dim and winding path.

You have probably thought before
Sakyamuni's hometown was as poor as yours.
Beneath the pilgrims' feet the foundation has been worn away,
Changed again and again.

Ah--the wisdom of our alphabet's thirty letters!
Why don't they point the way out of the three narrow
      paths of pilgrimage?
The cold wind plays a bitter symphony.
In their crow-colored tents
The descendants of the Land of Snows curl up on goat skins
While the people next door sleep on Simmons mattresses.
A warhorse cannot catch a spaceship.
Humanity moves toward the space age
But on your waist you carry only a shepherd's staff for
      fending off dogs.

Ah--Snow Mountains!
You bring forth snowy lotus and glossy genoderma
      in an endless cycle of death and rebirth
But have no medicinal herbs to cure these intense contradictions.
Flowing beneath the wrinkled brow of Majiaogangri
The inexhaustible currents of the Yellow River and the Yangtze
Are the tears of the Snow Mountains,
So people say.


The Snow Mountains spill blood, not tears.
Let us not use tears to welcome the dawn of a new era.

Translation by Janet L. Upton

Dpa' dar formerly worked for the Publishing and Translation Office of Gannan Prefecture, Gansu Province. He is now retired and lives outside Lanzhou. His work in this issue received an award for "outstanding poem" from the Gansu Provincial Literary Association. The poem first appeared in Chinese in the literary magazine Gesanghua and was later translated into Tibetan and published in the literary magazine New Moon (zla zer). The version in this issue was translated from a transcription of the Chinese original.

Janet L. Upton received her doctorate in anthropology from the University of Washington in 1999. Her dissertation focused on the role of schooling in a Tibetan community in Amdo. She is a program officer at Trace Foundation in New York, where she works on projects concerning minority higher education in China. She has written numerous articles and conference papers on Tibetan language, literature, and education in China.



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