Wind Horse – a poem by Barbara Parchim

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.

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