Wind Horse In the rarified air of Llasa at 12,000 feet, I’m wondering about my heart as we climb the hundreds of stairs to the Potala palace. But what better place for a heart to give out than where centuries of Dalai lamas have dwelt amongst the prayer flags, and monks with mala beads, where the scent of yak butter candles fills the dark and winding corridors and centuries of prayer permeate the stone of ceiling and walls and benevolence is the air we breathe. A monk in a small niche handles his beads, lips moving, oblivious to pilgrims, tourists, and the sudden appearance of Chinese soldiers with their impassive faces and gray uniforms as they march through the narrow passages. Outside, more soldiers, stationed at every intersection and on almost every rooftop above the Barkhor market, are incongruous amid the prayer flags flapping and straining at their tethers. Most are printed with the image of wind horse – symbol of good fortune and carrier of prayer to the heavens. Advised to not look at them, or take photos, we sit in a second story room eating yak stew behind a murky window. Bored and restless, soldiers scan the busy market - waiting for some disturbance – a petty thievery or another self-immolation? – as monks in robes the color of dried blood and pilgrims spinning prayer wheels circumnavigate the market. A day’s drive outside Llasa we gaze out the van windows – on one side, the trappings of assimilation – cell phones, motorcycles and western clothes, on the other, mountains, stark and beautiful, aproned with wide open vistas of barrenness, dotted with colorful yurts and herds of yak. Two worlds neatly divided by asphalt, interrupted every few miles by military checkpoints where our packs and van are searched for some unexplained contraband. Later, at market, past the wagons laden with exotic spices and tented displays of Tibetan horns, two young girls, vendors, smile and giggle – finding us amusing and strange – as we select a small prayer wheel, a yak bell on a strap of threadbare wool, and a bracelet of rough-cut carnelian, amber and yak bone strung on a cord. Turning to leave, a shy touch on my sleeve as they hand me another bracelet, a gift this time, intricately beaded coral and turquoise – bits of Tibetan sky – come from the blue mesas far above the breath of mountains where wind horse is running, unbroken.
Barbara Parchim lives on a small farm in southwest Oregon. Retired from social work, she volunteered for several years at a wildlife rehabilitation facility. She enjoys gardening and wilderness hiking. Her poems have appeared (or are forthcoming) in Ariel Chart, Isacoustic, the Jefferson Journal, Turtle Island Quarterly, Windfall and Trouvaille Review. Her first chapbook has been selected by Flowstone Press to appear in 2021.