Book Excerpt: Burning the Sun’s Braids: New Poetry from Tibet

Burning the Sun's Braids

A Dog And A Cat
By Chen Metak

On the road
A dog and a cat are playing
A game of love and affection like man,
As they play and caress
As they run and gambol
The dog gently sinks his fangs
On the cat’s neck, and
The cat makes
Soft affectionate meows.

I don’t believe there is anything
Going on between the two animals,
Like there is no special relationship
Between an elephant and an ant
Between a man and a gorilla.

I did not create any obstacles
Between the two beings,
I know this is all performance, and yet
I do wish to believe
There is something between
The two.

To tell you the truth
In this affection-deprived age,
Even a simple performance
Has immense value.


Monologues In Hell
By Theurang


If the radiant hands scratch the face of darkness today,
Will the world of dawn be lifted from amidst the shadows tomorrow?


If some ready-to-gallop horses
Have gone missing along with their saddles and bridles
Which horse-owner can point out who is the thief?


If a scheming wolf leaps onto a flock of sheep
The unarmed shepherd can, of course, shout out from the mountains.


Don’t tell lies when the ears are seeking for truth,
Do not create disharmony right before our eager eyes,
The people are watching you, the natural world is sighing at you.


I may not have ownership over my five physical senses,
You may have stolen the five organs and six vessels,
But I have permanent ownership over my pure inner vision.


Long live freedom, long live mankind
Long live truth, long live democracy
Long live the blood that runs in my veins!
Long live! Long live!

By Kyabchen Dedrol


A flower and a pair of twin angels
Are not enough to create jokes.

Though I knew early on that
I am a wheel shaped from wood,
My legs and hands still
Want to stretch out –
What is the root of everything?
What is the root of everything?

The root of everything is a human blood-stained nail,
Each time when the sky clears
Because of the power of sins
I feel as if being freed from the world,
Let’s go fast. Let’s go fast.
The home where we live in peace
Resembles a bag.


Who is stretching his legs and hands from a crack of a rocky hill?
Don’t hide, tell the truth.
The world is either blood from your head
Or belly of a woman,
Oh, a child,
The castle of the Lord of Death walks
Clenching its long-hidden fangs at us.

Let’s go fast. Let’s go fast.
The home where we live in peace
Resembles a hole.


The sweet tree I crave in greed
Turns into poison in my stomach,
When the veil is lifted from my face
I realize I was just a vapour seen in a mirror,
Kye! Mundane person, are you too busy?
The very fast-moving time is not a stick
Which can be altered and restored.

Whose seed was the poison?
Whose merchandise was the poison?
The poison is not a stick that can be altered and restored.
My wings are rotten skin,
Who does not know that it has become like poison?
My girl and the light-filled house are not a stick
Which can be altered and restored.

Everything is not a stick to be altered.
Let’s go fast. Let’s go fast.
The home we live in
Resembles a river.


These wild animals living in peace,
How can you eat them?
As the world gets constricted
Fangs of the animals stretch out into the sky,
Ah, the power of the mantras is lost
Ah, dirty water is mixed with rain.

A river has chased it upstream,
It must come down bearing its sins.

Let’s go fast. Let’s go fast.
The home we live in
Resembles a sea of blood.


Today’s Quota of Verses
By Mar Jaug Nyuk

Neighing of horses, lowing of dris1, singing of cuckoos
How sweet and how high,
Neighing of horses resembles
My father’s warm advice,
Lowing of dris reminds me of my mother’s milk
Singing of cuckoos is
The suffering bubbling up within my heart,
It is also the sunrays dropping from my body.
If there was a chirping bird that wakes up all beings from their slumber,
If there was a bright star that shows the footpath at dawn,
Would my long-cherished dream become a reality then?
Even if your father doesn’t care a hair’s worth for you,
I am a teardrop forever simmering deep in your heart.
Pray that I’ll be your ghost in death and your protector while alive.
In this evening of nine-layered shadows
In this evening, my father is crying again,
Throwing icy water into the warm bed,
Echoes of a hundred thousand wails
Emerging from the crossroads leading either to hell or to heaven,
Merging with the unbearable noise of the dark wind,
Making a flock of pigeons who have never left fear behind
Shiver in terror.

If the round moon under the dark clouds
Is the shackled spirit of my dead father, then
The long-tailed rat feeding on scriptures
Is the tiny nit infesting my father’s hair.
If I follow my aspiration
I can feel the cries of the birds who cannot find shade.
I can visualise the deeds of the awakened ones dwelling in the Pure Land.
If last evening was tonight’s tears,
This evening’s pain would be tomorrow’s path.

This evening, this evening though the darkness is too dense
This evening, this evening though the curtain of shadows is too thick
I can see the flames that burn the hearts of pigeons
Amidst the windstorm that did not rise suddenly,
Flames that scorch the hearts and lungs
Are mirrors of wisdom leading everyone to the Pure Land.

This evening, this evening everyone is terrified
Or else everyone is going mad,
Ruthless birds-of-prey eat
And sell the valuables found amidst the fire,
Even the remains of their lifelines found in the fire
Are devoured from within the cracks of papers.
The incomparable warmth of the fire
Would conceive in the wombs of a hundred thousand beauties
Who would nurture and continue the lives of our descendants.
My first verse is my principle that has a one-day life-span,
Has become like a shepherd who
Wears decent Tibetan clothes,
Speaks in undiluted Tibetan.
This is definitely not worthless.


1 dris are female counterpart of yaks, the male of the species



The Book:

Burning the Sun’s Braids is perhaps the first collection in English of new poetry from Tibet. As the blurb of the book states, the poems are ‘…cryptic, metaphoric, ambiguous or brutally straightforward’ resonating with ‘people’s resentment and defiance as well as speak to the violence – both visible and invisible – that they undergo everyday under occupation.’

Talking about their yearning, resentment, loss and hope, this book provides an alternative view of Tibet where the creative artists play a crucial role to assert their voice as well as to inspire the ordinary people to carry out resistance vis-à-vis an outside force. The poems, as the exile Tibetan writer Tsering Wangmo Dhompa writes, ‘… are heartbreaking, groundbreaking and revolutionary’. Readers need empathy and courage.


Poet/translator Bhuchung D. Sonam is the author of four books, including Yak Horns: Notes on Contemporary Tibetan Writing, Music, Film & Politics and Songs of the Arrow. He has edited Muses in Exile: An Anthology of Tibetan Poetry, and compiled and translated Burning the Sun’s Braids: New Poetry from Tibet. His writings are published in the Journal of Indian LiteratureHIMAL Southasian, Hindustan Times and Tibetan Review among others.

His permanent address was stolen.