Galsan Tschinag

 

The Stone Man

At Ak-Hem

 

Poems

 


Translated by Richard Hacken

From Galsan Tschinag, Der Steinmensch zu Ak-Hem
(Frauenfeld, Switzerland: Waldgut Verlag, 2002)


 

 

Let this book be dedicated

To Sualak and Arabrab,

the tireless and noble-minded couple

from the spirit-folk ten thousand strong

holding and molding me.

 

 


 

 

Warmth and Light

 

Warmth and light

Were

Tucked

Into my cradle

By mountains

Of the very stone

I am

And by men

Who are those

Mountains

 

 


 


 

Morning of Storm

 

Morning of storm, Novemberís end

On the branch of blue aspen crashing

Hangs one last leaf

Quaking, robbed of breath, big-eyed

 

A child clutching the back

Of its murdered mother

 

Premonition of terror

Flashes lightning-like through

All who see it

Veins and arteries shrivel

To frost-encrusted wires

 

The storm

Meaning winter

Is the whip

To sting us all

 



 

 

All Trees Grow Skyward

 

All trees grow skyward

Each laying a wreath

At eyelid level to encircle my sight

And the flicker-lucent green shadow

Kindles the morning as it sparks

With my help

Into flaming day

 

All rivers float

A seventy-throated joviality

Whose far extremity

The silver spheres

Leap within me

 

Winking, all stones run

Towards me

Pushy, stub-nosed questions

Each awaiting the answer

That will dash back at it

Seated, a white foal

Ingrown with its mother

 



 

Nomad

 

Nomad is

The quick breath of a name

For a person

Who dwells with difficulty

 

It is the look lightly cast

At a world

That exists with difficulty

 

Everything difficult

Is beautiful as well

Beauty remains

A mystery to itself

 

It is

The flaw that others

Discover in me

The voucher that I

Sign for myself

 

Unconquerable those

Who know how to tame

A curse into a blessing

 

Between worlds and ages

I commute

Believing myself

At home everywhere

 

Traveler at a standstill

My paths are strewn

With worms of doubt

That hollow me out

 

A refugee, falling

From advantage to advantage

In the weekend worlds

Of washed-out time rails

 

 



 

A Bigamist I Live

 

A bigamist I live

With a passing

And a coming age

Each a trap

 

Scarcely in the arms

Of the one

I begin to yearn

For the other

 

With each I create

A paradise

For the other

A hell

 

Each has her boundaries

Running

Along me

Dividing the other

 

Sow me here

Sow me there

The sproutling always

Grows me

 

A fate which I could

Wish on nobody else

But which I myself

Refuse to relinquish

 

 


 

 

Like a Dog in Heat

 

Like a dog in heat

This city-world

Sneaks and squirms and flees

Into every hiding-place

 

Morning after morning

I leave the cave that I

Have shared for one more night

With the loneliness beast

And continue the search

For faces

To shine on me perhaps

And thaw out

A nest of ice eggs

From my many lonely nights

 

But I am pushed away

Into exhaust fog

Suspended in emptiness

I pine away

For human beings

 

Watching the mannequins

Move past me

I feel

My face

Freeze into a mask

And the rest of my body

Right down to the pit for prey

My stomach

Shrivels into

Geometric, skillfully

Shelved replacement parts

 

 


 

 

Memory

 

The camel had a set of antlers

Legend tells us

 

The deer borrowed it

For a wedding

And hasnít brought it

Back to this day

 

The celebration must

Still be going on

The legend concludes

Deceptive intent is

Not an issue

 

So the deer still needs

To show up and

Return

The unaccustomed decor

 

The camel waits

And waits

His eyes scanning

The distance

While he drinks

 

Animals have

A long, gentle memory

 



 

 

To Eva Strittmatter

 

We have nothing to explain

To each other

Weíve swum

In the same stream

Weíve tripped

Over the same rock

And now drift

Stripped of bark

Two bodies of spring water

And have kept in sight

That bay

So kind

As to take us in

 

 



 

Vita

 

At the vague, shallow beginning

Of the way I think I was

An entity with wings

A bubbly, bright sparrow

That had slipped away from the

Mushroom-round, fleecy-felt nest of my yurt

 

Without wings I could

Never have escaped

The talons of the mountain steppe

And its centuries-

Backward age

 

Above the world of things

I flew about

Long searching for a landing spot

Nowhere did I find it

The earth was

Paved shut with hard stones

Every interstitial space

Sown thick with sightless beings

I flew all

About

Until one day

The wind in my wings was spent

So down I plunged

Under me

Metallic sounds and flashing sights

 

When this occurred

I was a different entity

Without face or pain

 

 



 

By Night I Rested

 

By night I rested

On waves

That once again carried

Me away from the castle

Protruding

At massive angles

From the round body

Of earth mother

 

Gray houses pushed hard

Against blue distances

Lugging and tugging

And rubbing me round

In the flame light

Of fluttering grasses

Whose roots I knew in me

 

Like quivering veins

Pathways pressed

On the chapping wound

That once, defying the gravitational

Pull of my mountain steppe

I had inflicted on it

 

 



 

A Stone Lets Go of the Mountain Peak

 

A stone lets go of the mountain peak

Flies down, aiming for the slope

With its rambling rivulets

Strikes, wounds it and

Forces an embryonic river

To stop for a few ticks

The bright vein pattern

In the black rock

Is, who knows, the pardon

For wounds gouged

Into the mountain body

 

Rumors rampage

From clear skies

In my temple beats

The blood disrupted in the river

Time bomb

Set to my measured life

It will lie there

Holding me in its power

And eating away at me

Until a kind and welcome word

Arrives

To defuse it

 

 


 


Invocation

 

Clearly I am

A narrow, fragile

Arrow, let fly

From your broad and powerful

Thumb, O Sky

 

All the more quickly

Do I fly, willing

Now that Iíve been launched

Never to tire

Before the goal has been reached

O Father

 

 



 

When the Blue Rain

 

When the blue rain

Courses to gray and

The tear-shedding shrub

Weeps out its sparrows

Longing overtakes me

After the snowstorms

And the rowdy herds

All my inner strings

Are pulled forward

Dragging me to winter

The growing child

I carry beneath my heart

 



 

Storm Hour

 

The coming day of a passing age

Rises up and blows to a storm

 

Elements leap from their tracks

Congregate at a run and

Instantly turn to flame

Pelting and clattering

Screeching and howling

Whistling and raging

A world crumbles to rubble

 

The birds in you flutter wildly

Threatening to break apart the nest

They force you back to yourself

You put out your feelers

Awaiting and aware

 

It is the birth hour

Of a poem

 



 

 

Crosswise Slicing

 

Crosswise slicing

Through the storms of time

I hold tight to primordial

Surroundings

Before me the exemplar mountain

Survives and rises

 

Unshakeable, standing

In this winter night

He sees his children

The stones

To safety

Taking every storm

Upon his back and

Therefore being

Mountain

 

 



 

A Tiny Ring of Light

 

A tiny ring of light

I wandered

Through the rain-day

 

In certitude

Of lighting up many more

Rain-wet autumns with you

I allowed myself

To settle in at several spots

 

Splicing and bundling myself

I kindled my increased light

To a flame and touched it

To the skin of the one

Crouching at my knee, so he

Might catch fire

Might flee

From the niche of lonesomeness

And blaze a corridor

Into twosomeness

 

 


 

 

It Is September Still

 

It is September still

Tomorrow at the latest, the time-sparrow

Will nest under anotherís roof

And will weigh more heavily

On the grove of aspen that has grown

Without peril for months

But whose yellow flames for days

Have mimicked approaching dread

 

Inevitable passing hangs in the air

 

The passion

That I havenít been able to tame

That you havenít wanted to quench

 

Is it mortal

As well?


 


 

 

Two Dark-Colored Yaks Ė

 

Two dark-colored yaks Ė

Trembling kidneys of the steppe

Beside the sky-path populate

The slopes of my homecoming thoughts

 

The dew-moist morning air bubbles blue

Streams with bright veins and floats them

Towards me

As I, heroic knight of my

Own self-crafted life epic

Rolling the heights down and the horizons up

Rush home

 

Foreign, pointy-roofed worlds lurk beneath the sky

Poking their barbs up

Tearing and shredding the shroud of heaven

But the healing wind

From my luminescent brow

Blows shut all wounds

Currents of air pick up speed

And the yaks glide

One skyline closer to me

 

I spur on the steed

One more clump of steppe

Turning myself inside out

I hold ready the nesting places

For the trembling kidneys

Just as a mother

Holds open a warm lap

For her freezing children

 



 

 

Fleeing:A Ballad

 

The clouds

Are in flight

Shadow-choked land

Is the ghastly track

Of their fear

 

Understanding

Is in this eye of mine

That never tires of watching them

Scatter apart

Only to fly together again

All the while continuing to flee

 

I stand here exhausted

Having a hard time filling

My time-quota on earth

Early I saw the nakedness

Of aggressive dealings

Now Iíve had my fill

Of slimy soft-peddling too

Iím at my end, I am

The two-legged, bullet-spewing animal

That exalts itself to crown of creation

Ultimately damned as slave

To an unappeasable stomach

 

Loathe to destroy

Little leads me to preserve

Those things crumbling apart

This ball of earth is, as everything on it

In flight

 

I have fled

Since the hour of birth

From the truth called end

But it has finally caught me

 

I realize

It took a long time

To convince me

Of the pointlessness of my venture

 

To note that the cloud moves

The river flows, the wind blows

Is merely the work

Of our double-tongued speech

Of circumlocution

Every thing flees

Ends in flight

 

I endure, give myself over

Agree to exit

The tottering stage

Of the prank called life


 


 

 

To the Stars

†††† First Canto

 

In raging snowstorm winters you were to me

Grazing antelope on the broad meadow of heaven

Under your blowing breath on the resounding steppe

I guarded my freezing herd and

Poured out some warmth to them

That had fallen down on me

 

With the nights you pricked apart

And laid vanquished foes at my feet

I saw you grow to lanterns

That led me along a lighted path

Through the years of dark time

At decisive battles you were

Blazing letters that formed encouraging slogans

To encircle my endangered head

 

In the clear coolness of approaching autumn now

I recognize in you those

With whom fate wove me cell by cell

I see father and mother, brothers and sisters

Gone and lost one by one

Now shining brightly in celestial heights

Beside them the yurt, my ragged little warm nest

That I never found again on my return home

 

Slowly I doze off

At some time I was among you

In the shimmering swarm of futures

Scarcely recognizable, just a milk splash

And I know, in the enticing midst of those

Who received the red juice of life

With me from a common navel

Is the place appointed me when I

Ignited as light

Return to the sky

 

 



To the Grasses

†††† Second Canto

 

One does it with gold

The other with silk

Others still with paper

But I have it with you

You grasses of my steppe

 

Once again you have

Completed the miracle

Paying proper heed, growing

You have come to me

In different years, different bodies

 

The flames of wind that

Blow through you

Are dreams of their ancestors

Still dreaming, I plan to

Plant them in my grandchildren

 

The ocean of light that

Streams off from you and

Eases the world of blindness

Is by one tiny trifle

My work as well

 

For night after night

I heat up

From longings

And give myself over to the pain and pleasure

Of burning

 

 


 

 

To the Steppe

Third Canto

 

At last the storm subsides

The raging and crashing sea is gone

Having disappeared into the blue-yellow steppe

 

But the peace has not

Returned to me in any way

The forces still hold their mutual deadly grip

 

Fear stands ram-rod alert in me

Pain cauterizes through my diaphragm

And I know what it means to be the steppe, o Mother

 

I thank you and I thank you

For each gravel-stone lying

And for each blade of grass standing

 

Are you asleep?Perhaps

But likely not; youíre thinking and

Collecting yourself for the next battle

 

With a shriek I address the storm

Raging inside me:

Here I stand and face my fate

To be a sequel to the steppe!

 

 



 

Fate of a Guest

 

Bittersweet the bread of graciousness

On the banquet table of a world

That you, little prodigy beast,

Only allow yourself to see

In your Sunday state and when the mood is right

 

You trip over habitudes

That manifested themselves in your absence

And that lurk with malice now

 

Beaten down by friendliness

You behave charmingly to no avail

While often thinking vengeful thoughts

About the nakedness

That others must have as well

 

Not invited as yourself

You are the stray

So donít spoil the strange game

Join in, take

Whatever comes

Chew and swallow

 

The sweet cud, slimed

With the tear of rancor

Stuck in your throat

Smile, nod and talk of gratitude

Pay the going price


 


 

 

Poetry Making

 

The wall clock strikes four

As if tossing

Dead hours

At my feet

 

I understand the rage

That gurgles in its cogs

And snatch myself

Away from the cordial cuddle

Of sleep

Thus for the rest

Of this day at least

Long since flown

Past

I can squeeze the udder

 

Of time

Determined

To get at the

Milk from which

A spirit

Can be distilled

To numb

Mortality

 



 

 

Keeping Still

 

In the smug larder of life

Where everyone knows it all

And therefore feels

The need to talk

Or permission to bellow

Be still

 

The stone man at Ak-Hem

Has been silent four thousand years

And has written history

With his silence

 

He will begin to speak

When a world

Of liberty-taking

Falls to ruin

On its own prattle

 

 



 

To the Rain

 

This putrefacting body

Stewing in its own gall

How gladly would I have

Turned it inside out

And hung it open

For streaming water

To wash the bruises out

Once and for all

From thousand-fold

Mutilated tissue

Targeted by blows of blind rage

And to mix this slippery shallow age

Into the communal swill

As seasoning

 

 

 


 


I, the Pulsing Blood

 

I, the pulsing blood of the Altai

Circle the earth

In reverse orbit to the missionaries

Who invade my steppe and my yurt

Breaking through the lockless door

To shake foundations

 

I ripple through a hypothermic body

With unspent heat I work

My way to its heart

Opening up a blocked artery

Here and there

 

I flow through soulscapes

And should a demon plotting against me, a desert,

Cross my path at any time

I counterattack immediately with my congenital disease

Of fraternal friendliness


 


 

 

My Land

 

My land

With its heights and depths

Its gaps and strictures

Like my life

 

My life

Furrowed and pock-marked

Flecked with blue and gray

Like my land

 

Light

In both

Encircled by shadows

 

Shadows in both

Infused

With light

 

 


 


Confrontation

 

In the middle of nocturnal steppe

The gray wolf

Stands a sudden five paces away

Measures me

With a devil gaze

And bares his teeth

 

Five paces from him

I cower-squat, measure him

With a hunter's gaze

And click my tongue

With strategem

 

Both of us burn with murder-lust

But neither has

The tools

To bring about

The otherís death

 

Through a pane of glass

We stare

At each other

For a protracted moment

And each then lets

The other go

 

And so the two of us

Remain alive

Taking note

Of our common fate

 

 


 

 

Trusting The Quiet

 

Never trust that hour of quiet at early dawn

In the winter steppe

Death crouching quietly

Wind-chill claws grabbing

Hold of you from every side

Time and again a pale shroud

Awkwardly falls across you

Specter beams peeling away

From moon-ice

Keep vigilant and show the steppe

You are its child

Shake off

The burial shroud

Go for the monsterís throat

Chop him and crush him underfoot

Drive your will through the herd

Awaken and sharpen

Hoof and antler on every limb

Once you have succeeded

Then youíve seized the moment by its scalp

You have escaped

Death again

And have another day before you

To peel open the skin

Scarred shut

To get at

The sweet juice of bliss

The spicy meat of euphoria and

Make love to life

 


†††††††††††

 

By Your Side

 

By your side I live luminous

Kin to the sun fire

I burn and radiate

Unsparingly to all

In need of light and warmth

 

At your side I foam up

Against those years

On course to drown me

I divert the stream of time

And drift to my beginnings

 

At your side I am a child

That makes me holy Ė and often foolish

And deliberately I forget

The free game that I am

With a retrieved simplicity

For the sake of others

 



 

 

The Path to Your Yurt

 

The path to your yurt

Is strewn with stones

Roughhewn but talkative

 

From them I learn

The way you stand in the swivel-wind

That blows from all sides

Lashing you

With rancorous rumors about me

 

And from the way I take that news

They recognize me and

Grant me leftover sparks

From the sun of a million eons

Sealed in embers

Lying awake in them

 

Spark-wielding, I take the wind

By storm and duel

That windstorm

To stoke myself

To fire, to flame

 

Thatís why I come

To your door

Glowing and flaming

 

 


 


Morning after Morning

 

Morning after morning

On a side street you chase

A nocturnal dream

 

Gray strips of asphalt

Spool beneath your wheels until

My heart, hung high

From the traffic light for you

Winks and flashes back

You wait for the red blood

And watch expectantly

For a wound at the spot

Where our paths once crossed

 

A thousand mornings pass away

But on the thousand and first

Borne by a dreamless night

You find that traffic light gone

You drive on, gliding painlessly

Through the scarred intersection

Youíve recovered from me


 


 

 

I Can Show the Luster Sheen

 

I can show the luster sheen

But not the stigma scar

That sky-colored velvet

Threaded with silver

Heavier than chain mail

Pressed down on me

 

I live more nakedly than ever

 

May grass grow tall

Along the road to my success

To fill the potholes

At whose cost

You have

Come to me

 

 



 

Forlorn and Forgotten

 

Forlorn and forgotten

Here you are again

A thin broth

In the dog-dish of life

Incapable of imagining that any mutt

Could come up and

Give you a lick or a lap

 



 

 

Entangled

 

Entangled

In the gears of time

I fly

To the constellations

And chase

One star

Past planets

Whose proximity in me

Always awakens new landscapes

From sleep with a jolt

 



 

 

Each Sunrise

 

Each sunrise

Over the steppe

Is a miracle

Worth noting in my ledger book

For I am

The beating heart

The praying lips

Of mother earth

Old men of time have

Done their work on me

At the tips

Of my ten fingers

You can see their marks

Compiled as ancient scripture

Each cipher

Burned into me

By the sun

The mother of light and fire

The wishes

Of a prince with the

Stamp of earth and sky on him

Must never go unfulfilled

All success on earth

Blows

His way

 

 



 

Ballad of Ana Jechai, the Nomad-Bride

 

Toward the end of your 80th and middle of my

Not yet exfoliated nomadic autumn

You, flower Ana, coming from great distances

Set foot on grazing and hunting grounds of the high Altai

Beyond the boundary of nations and ages

 

My shepherd eyes and hunter sense comprehended you

At once, you flaming-maned mare, you spark-tailed gazelle

I crept up to you, threw my lasso

And had you Ė zap! Ė in a loop of rope

Up ran the botanist, who has dealt so many times

With herbs, at times mature, at times dried and limp

Now this was a true flower in front of our noses

Forget about 80, you werenít even 18

That insistent way you smelled, Ana!

 

With you, my catch, I faced a trilemma:

1.                  The shepherd mounts the mare

2.                  The hunter shoots the gazelle

3.                  The botanist plucks the flower

 

The longer I stood, the less I knew

Each of my characters, tough as nails, refused to give you up

And so I had to wake the chieftain

With hooves, the stallion with horns, the wise buck

A man of standing and steel

And he was the one to make the decision: you were

Renamed Ana Jechai and chosen to be a bride

 

One night in the midmost month of autumn

I took you on, the steppe was our bed

It was the field of race and harvest, the battle mat, for I was

The shepherd, hunter, botanist, everything permitted a chieftain

 

I protected, slaughtered, shot, dissected, plucked, enjoyed you

With knife-sharpened eyesight, pan-heated skin

With all the ranges and racks of my insatiable senses

I climbed your hills, crept into your hollows, examined you

 

The creator must have been confused

So much of you was stuck in the wrong spot, but your glands

Were anatomically correct, separating water, milk, blood, honey, gall

In the proper sequence and proper amounts

May-the-heavens-damn-us-both if a single pore

Of our united body gave cause for deception that hour

When we two stones crashed into each another, striking a spark

We two woodpiles stoked one another, kindling a flame

You were the most fiery mare imaginable, most noble of gazelles

Fragrant-most of flowers, Ana; you were, are, and will always be

Irrepressibly wondrous thing, milk white Ė sun yellow Ė sky blue

 

Still I know: none are divorced in these latitudes and longitudes

Widowed perhaps, no more or less than elsewhere

But raised up to virgin glory!


 


 

 

The Library at Tuva

 

Tip of the hat to the Kanjur, the Bible, the Koran
Tip of the hat to whatever it is man sanctifies
My peopleís shrine is called Altai
Whose scriptural scribes are wind and sun
Multi-summered water, multi-wintered snow
And callused innumerable living extremities
With names like: feeler, claw, paw, hoof, soleÖ
The Altai with its white mane is our land register
Whose memory reaches back quadrabillions of years
With stony pages in whose inmost fabric
Tracks and traces slumber with frozen fatigue

Sky is the name of our textbook
The Altaiís discourse and scholarly gradation
Where letters glow like stars and a passage
Awaits when terrestrial fruits are ripe
And pollen dust has shaken off

Like a kindly father, the sky takes pigtail grasp
Of transient shapes poking through the pores of planet earth
And pulls them up
So ancient basic substances can overwhelm and etch them
Their tracks spread cell by cell
To cracks and ridges, welts and fissures
Until they flow out as lines of commentary
On stories undeniable
All opened to the same chronological page

The writing of wind and sun and water
Feeds on beauty recumbent in the ages
Wisdom and wit emanate from the collected works of time
Whether by hand of man, beak of eagle, or crown of tree
Each one a book cross-sectioned with annual rings
Embossed ever deeper the more the wind blows across them

Tip of the hat to the Bible, the Koran, the Kanjur
Tip of the hat to any book stored in shelved compartments
As for me, I live in a weather niche free from irrelevance
And recognize in my earth and my sky that library of antiquity
Visible to every eye, palpable to every nerve ending

 

 

 



Richard Hacken, European Studies Bibliographer,
Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, USA.
Comments, corrections and suggestions are welcome: hacken @ byu.edu