“On the Plateau,” by Shen Haobo
Poet and publisher Shen Haobo was born in 1976 in Taixing, Jiangsu Province. He is a leading figure in the “Lower Body Poets” (下半身写作) contemporary poetry movement. Follow Shen on his Sina blog and Weibo account.
Following is a translation of Shen’s poem “On the Plateau” (在高原), originally published in September of last year [Chinese], in which the poet explores the themes of religion and self-immolation on the Tibetan plateau.
On the Plateau
Navy blue* sky, floating fragmented clouds
Like a troop of soldiers, spirit scattered by guns
Like an aged master, a soul that flies away after deep meditation
Like a cow eating grass, a crawling in its stomach, chewing the cud of the soul
The wind blowing the poplar, green-colored leaves
Turning and tumbling on its back, beneath the sunshine, sparkling like silver
Exposing the face of Tara. The Yellow River like the tears of snowy mountains
Yak milk flowing the same, washing heaven’s reflection
The canyon’s bend, rivers and creeks among a thick forest
Those little houses, snow-white walls painted with black characters:
Fight disintegration, refuse infiltration, resist self-immolation, violators will be prosecuted
A pitch-black gun muzzle, dipped in blood, burning on the plateau
The monk wearing red, turning like prayer, walking towards the flame
Hiding himself in the shoulder blade of the plateau, his body like cedar branches
Turquoise eyes, amber teeth, flame like the wind
Blowing open the withered and yellow sutra. He’s in the fire, like incense in the furnace
Throwing oneself to blood, and achieving instant enlightenment?
Death by flame, is it also Nirvana?
Why die in such a way? Because of land and faith?
A pride of lions galloping on the plateau, they kowtow the same, as they walk towards the flame
Translated by Natalie Ornell. Also see CDT’s translation of Shen Haobo’s “My Motherland is Not Made of Love” and Martin Winter’s translation of Shen’s poem “Republic” (理想国).