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
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.
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
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.