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Thousand foot long Mani (prayer) wall in Mustang district.     ©Macduff Everton

“A Sacred Geography: Sonnets of the Himalaya and Tibet is borne out of years I’ve lived in the Nepal Himalaya and in Tibet. These sonnets are written in homage to places on the edge of things. Each locale invoked through these poems has made me more attentive to the stories that live within a landscape. These places are touchstones. I have chosen the sonnet-as-form, in part, because these poems are an act of love. They are offerings, written in the spirit of ritual and with the knowledge that, like love, landscapes must be true to change.”
        -Sienna Craig


a sampling of sonnets from 
A Sacred Geography: Sonnets of the Himalaya and Tibet

© Sienna Craig 2005

A portion of sales of A Sacred Geography will help support projects in the Himalaya and Tibet through DROKPA. Visit the DROKPA website
Sienna Craig is co-founder of this non-profit corporation. See Sienna Craig's website

MONTHANG*

I walk your wall at daybreak wrapped in wool
Rainbow striped cloth with its stale butter smell
Clings to me like dreams; bare feet on slate—cool
Slabs brought from where a quarry demon dwells

From this vantage, tangled wood is wealth stored
For long winters, marriage, a lama’s pyre
Adobe palace, a protector’s sword
Shrine of wild horns and noble fire

Easterly glow on monastery walls
A few cows and even fewer child cries
Mothers with sleep in their faint rooftop calls
Colored yarn wrapped around sheep skulls, and eyes

To watch the living, the dead, and those between
Less earthly abodes and this city, labyrinthine

 

RETING*

The ancients lean upon you here, they say
Not an untroubled place, Reting recalls
Power grasped and wrestled, men betrayed
Careful steps and whispers between the walls

And yet for all the malice cloaked in claims –
Renderings of history sworn to repent
Lest they repeat – be still, sense what remains
Of the sacred; the trees endure, grow sweet

Gnarled beauties whose seeds were cast about
A thousand seasons past, and still they catch
On winds blown like breath of masters devout,
For which sentient storms remain poor match

Meditations on quietude and clarity, they endure
From limbs to smoke and embers, fires burn pure


CHOMOLONGMA*

Confronted with this place where myths are made
Beyond florid plains, woven summer light
And clouds that roll like water as a wave
I see a summit ready to take flight

They say she is the captor of men’s dreams
Fear and fancy mingle, this death pleasure,
Wrought by earthbound hands, breeds heroes in reams
And equally renounces breath; danger

In so sure a form has never been more
Confident: her blackened face, wizened ridge
Glacier jewels as necklaces she has worn
Crystal rampage and ice, she is a bridge

Between worlds we hold and those we free
I, as Orpheus, turn and she remains, Eurydice

 

 


BOUDHA*

Beneath damp morning, monsoon clouds part sky
As if to echo thunderstorms now passed
Streets quiet still under Buddha eyes
The chöten rests, smooth whitewashed temple cast

As Sakyamuni's wish when this life ends
Two begging bowls turned upside down, empty
A plain request, this metaphor ascends
Becomes a place of worship where many

Light lamps and spin prayer wheels, wanting still
Release from worldly suffering when world
Surrounds; chöten is want and wisdom willed
In clockwise turns, the universe unfurled

We are beggars and pilgrims both, this lifetime round
Feet shuffle along slate, walk saffron sunset down

PLACING THE SONNETS

MONTHANG translates as “plain of aspiration.” It is the name of the walled city that is the capitol of the kingdom of Lo, or northern Mustang. Even today, seven centuries after Monthang’s founding, this cluster of two hundred-odd households is still home to the king of Lo, still bound up in a medieval sensibility as much as it is also part of the modern world.

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet says RETING is the place where he would choose to reside, should he ever return to Tibet in this lifetime. Nestled on a mountainside in Lhundrup County, in today’s Tibet Autonomous Prefecture, Reting is both monastery and forest, home to a stand of junipers that are more than a thousand years old.

CHOMOLONGMA is the Tibetan name for Mt. Everest, and is translated as “mother goddess of the universe.” The vision of this most famous of mountains depicted in this poem is a view from the Tibetan side of the border looking south, toward Nepal. Unlike the Nepali approach, which requires that one trek from the heart of the Khumbu region toward base camp, one can approach the Tibetan face by motor road and then walk toward the glacier and moraine that form the mountain’s skirts.

The final poem is a return to the Kathmandu Valley and to one of the most sacred Buddhist pilgrimage sites in South Asia. BOUDHA, or Bodhnath as it is also known, is one of the world’s largest chöten, and is the heart of Tibetan cultural life in urban Nepal. It is said that when the Buddha was on the cusp of an enlightened  passing, his disciples asked him what should be done with his body. To this, the Buddha replied by stacking two begging bowls on top of each other, signifying his fundamental teaching: emptiness upon emptiness. Or, rather, form is not the point of this life; transcendence is. But the human need to create sacred space as an inspiration toward, and metaphor of, such transcendence, meant that this teaching was translated into a physical structure. The chöten was born.

 

 

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