sound of a bird song

in the shallow afternoon.

===== . ===== , ------- , -------.

two notes, the second lower than the first.

two beats, equal in time.

===== . ===== , ------- , -------.

there is this. beyond this - 

i tie my boots. i look at a map. i climb.

every day i brush my teeth. twice.

sometimes there is enough water

to shower. i can’t remember

any of my dreams or even

if i dream. locals: where you from?

so we invent a story, decide to speak

spanish, weave a tale of living

another life in santiago with a cat

until that other life begins to sound

possible and i don’t care to consider

the original time zone, don’t care 

to make phone calls or schedules


maybe i’m not supposed to. maybe

the trick is to hold very still

and concentrate on a bird song.


A donkey on the porch is in the middle of nothing. People walking by in dusty fabrics and blistered feet are unimpressed. Everyone understands the need for emptiness. Everyone hungers for the things that inhabit silence. Ginger tea in a tin cup promises conversation, but we can only blink through the steam. The mountains, snow-capped and furiously large, surround us like an amphitheater. At night, we perform the ritual of sleeping, our bodies curling into each other like leaves.


The village of Ghandruk greets us

with steep stone steps, our last climb

of the day. This is the home of the Gurung,

herders and observers of Bön,  the belief

that places, creatures,  perhaps even words,

are animate and alive. It is the last village

accessible by car on the ascent, and so

it is one of the more inhabited in the region.


Women wear gold nose rings called phuli

and bright coral necklaces. Their dark eyes

and easy laughs are beautiful enough

to keep me from staring.


We drink a pot of tea on the patio

where we sit under the gaze 

of mist-covered mountains

and I think of Rilke, of circles

that reach out across the world

each one

widening: what returns, what is familiar, what remains and repeats.


After dinner, we read to one another

about the war, the sound of a moth

batting the light bulb a rhythmic lull.


Nepal’s civil conflict lasted ten years,

destroyed the country’s infrastructure

and claimed 13,000 lives.


Hundreds of people were tortured,

sexually abused or made to disappear

by erasing any record of them.


Years after signing a peace agreement,

the government has yet to recognize

the bloody struggle in any formal way.


We talk about this from a quiet lodge

high in the mountains,  over which

strings of prayer flags bless the air.


It is said the wind horse, or lungta,

carries the flags’ prayers to all four corners

in the spirit of its colors - 





and blue .


We wake with the sun, sometimes before it. Shifting activates the soreness of our limbs. I unzip the sleeping bag over my head to look at her. We stay touching eyes for some time before gathering the nerve to dress, hurried and shivering, in the cold.  The lodge is quiet. Downstairs, we drink milk coffee, savor eggs and potatoes with willing mouths, dip our spoons into the Sparsha honey: so hungry and unfurled.  I’m learning Nepalese with a book, repeating common phrases so I can memorize them.  I pronounce them carefully and she laughs, “you’re so serious,” and wraps her arms around me.


I keep coming back to the word

jijivisha, keep thinking of my friend A

who had a baby and nearly died

ten hours behind in time, no technology

to bridge the blood of a heart on pause

while we trekked across the world.

jijivisha, an intense love of life,

a strong desire to survive

despite the innumerable times

we render one another a thing to be

denied, yoked under tongue, and silenced.


how A

went into cardiac arrest, was put on life support,

nearly lost her limbs                   but didn’t.

instead, she opened her eyes

instead, she stood up      she

                 learned to walk

held her newborn


strong   gentle

open      and certain

of some faceless god

because she emerged from the jaws of whatever that was

with her life.


It’s snowing when we reach the summit. Strings of prayer flags decorate the air above the lodges. We have been carrying one with us and take it to the stupa site where we bow, say a prayer, and tie it to the posts for the lungta to carry to the edges of the world.


Our clothes are wet from the climb, but it’s too cold to dry them. The sun is peaking low. The white mountains tower sharply. I can’t imagine being out on these mountains in the dark. The mere thought is paralyzing, and I am comforted by the safety of drinking tea in the thin-walled lodge, wrapped in our sleeping bags, playing Yahtzee. She catches me looking at her and smiles. The hollows of her cheeks smooth with the creases of it. From the steamy windows, we watch the drifts of snow fall white and soundless.


What Buddhists call nirvana, Hindus call moksa, the freedom from sorrow, from the cycles of birth and death, a sort of self-realization or fulfillment. I wonder at being tied, being floored, being held to this.


In the morning, the smell of sage burning in a brass bowl wakes us. I turn to her, reach out to hold her face in my hand, run my fingers along her cheek. We smile, again, and again, we are hungry.


SYLVIA MERCEDES BEATO lives in Brooklyn where she teaches high school and laughs with her dog. Her work has been published in Split This Rock, CALYX Journal, Bridge Eight, and elsewhere. She is a recipient of the Hoyt Jacobs Memorial Poetry Award and a candidate for an M.F.A. in Poetry & Translation at Queens College CUNY.