For fifty years, Tibet has been a largely silent world, one where no Tibetan speaks out openly. But in 2003 the Tibetan poet Woeser stepped forward from the shadows with Notes on Tibet, a set of uniquely frank essays on modern life which, though quickly suppressed, were followed by major works of poetry, reportage, history, and cyberjournalism. She found herself compelled to move from Lhasa to Beijing, where, under constant harassment by the authorities, she has continued, as if without fear, to produce work that is honest, lyrical, and daring.

Here are a couple of her poems:

“Remembering a Battered Buddha

Twenty days since I left Lhasa
But still I see that statue of the Buddha with its face bashed in.
It was on a street vendor’s stand in front of the Tromsikhang neighborhood office.
I noticed it from a distance.
I’d gone to Tromsikhang Market to buy droma,
But at the sight a sudden grief assailed me.
I drew closer—couldn’t help it—to this thing so crushed:
It seemed alive, leaning against a shelf in agony,
The face hammered, an arm hacked off, the whole figure chopped off at the waist.
Hurting so bad, leaning against a rack of the goods
That surrounded it: soy sauce, bean jam, salad dressing, and roll after roll of toilet paper,
All introduced into our life long ago from inland China.
Around its neck an ornament, once exquisite, inlaid with colored stones,
And at its chest a wondrous beast with lion head and body of man,
Stacked on a fragmentary chorten.
In what sacred shrine or pious home were these things once venerated?
Hurting so bad and leaning against the rack of merchandise,
It emanated the calm of still waters, but pain stabbed into my marrow:
As I looked on in grief, I sensed a story being played out
That had both a present and a past.
I was moved by the shadowy fate that had brought us together,
As if melted snow from the high peaks had filled my being.
Hugging his knees, the peddler made a pitch:
“Come on, buy it! Don’t the old buddha look grand?”
“When did it get beat up like this?” I asked.
“Cultural Revolution, obviously!” he glanced up, “Had to be the Cultural Revolution.”
“How much?” I wanted to buy it, to take it home,
But this peddler from Jiangxi wouldn’t budge from three thousand.
So with reluctance and regret, and many an afterthought,
I left that broken buddha streaming rays of pain.
I only took some pictures,
So when I miss it I can turn on my computer and have a look.
Friends say it may have been a brand-new buddha, wrecked thus
To fetch a higher price, and the link to the Cultural Revolution was a fiction.
Maybe so; but the hurt remains.
I wrote these lines to try to let it go.

May 14, 2007
Beijing”

“On the Road

On the road with edgy mind,
I’ll flee the chaos of this floating world,
Pick a place to settle,
Find choice words
To tell this passing turn of the Wheel.

On the road one meets by chance
Men and women of immense dignity;
One’s natural pride is humbled.
The ruins that overspread Tibet with shadows dark as night
Have a nobility not found in ordinary men.

Among those encounters:
One dear to me, long−lost,
Brilliant, uncompromising,
Neglected.
I, too, am pure and honest;
Mine, too, a sincere and gentle heart;
I wish as seasons change I could change with them.
No need for gifts to one another;
We are the gifts.

On the road, an elder of my people says:
“Golden flowers bloomed on golden mountain;
While golden flowers bloomed, he did not come;
And when he came, the flowers had died.
Silver flowers bloomed on silver mountain;
While silver flowers bloomed, he did not come;
And when he came, the flowers had died.”

On the road, walking alone.
An old book without a map,
A pen, not much to eat,
Ballads from a foreign land:
These will suffice. On the road,
I see a black horse
Who does not bow his head to graze but shakes his hooves,
Vexed that he can’t run free.
Yet also, deep in meditation caves among the vast mountains,
The hidden forms of men.
What sort of heart will honor and revere them?

On the road, a pious mudra’s not complex,
But it ill suits a tainted brow.
A string of special mantras is not hard,
But they’re jarring, from lips stained with lies.

On the road,
I clutch a flower not of this world,
Hurrying before it dies, searching in all directions,
That I may present it to an old man in a deep red robe.
A wish−fulfilling jewel,
A wisp of a smile:
These bind the generations tight.

May 1995
Lhasa”

“The Past

This snow−clad mountain, melting, is not my snow mountain.
My snow mountains are the mountains of the past,
Far at the sky’s edge, holy and pure:
Many a lotus, eight petals opening,
Oh, many a lotus, eight petals opening.

This lotus, withering, cannot be my lotus.
My lotus is the lotus of the past,
Enfolding the snow mountains, lovely,
Many a prayer flag, five colors fluttering,
Oh, many prayer flags, five colors fluttering.

The past, the past… such a past!
A host of divinities sheltered our homeland
As a lama keeps watch over souls,
As a mastiff stands guard by the tent.
But the host of divinities is long gone, now,
The host of divinities is long gone.

September 2002
Yunnan, in sight of Mt. Khawa Karpo”

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