Galsan Tschinag

 

Cloud Dogs

 

Poems


Translated by Richard Hacken

From Galsan Tschinag, Wolkenhunde
(Frauenfeld, Switzerland: Waldgut Verlag, 1998)


 

 

The Greater and the Lesser Yurt

 

My yurt throbs and pulses in the steppe

Which is my other grand yurt

The twisted smoke thread

From the lesser

Rising up through the greater

And spiraling into the clouds

Is my umbilical cord

 

I the common task

Of Father Sky and Mother Earth

Have made a home for three horse lives

At the restless nomadic hearth

 

And will at some far hour

Migrate across to the

Stones, grasses and cranes

To swim back across

On the great circular river

Toward the waiting, watching threshold

Of my greater and my lesser yurt

 



 

 

Obliquely

 

Obliquely

A beam of sunlight lies

Upon the glacier

 

The storm bends it

Pelting me

With needles of ice

As I watch

 

With an eye full of cloud scrap

Drifting toward the beam of light

I pull myself together

 

Into all my pores

Winter invades

 

 



 

The Wind of Gray Geese

 

The wind of gray geese

Rushing over us

Here at dawn

Was still warm

With the smoke of your yurt

The summer- grazing meadow of my dreams

All winter long

 

In the bird wind

Like a pale shadow

From the heights of dying stars

Lingered a subdued sigh

Of the animal in you

 

 


 

 

The Grasses Stand Motionless

 

The grasses stand motionless

Surrounded by solitude

And listen

 

The horizons stretch

Totter and escape

The talons of linearity

 

The steppe flows out

Pushing the mountains

Toward all the winds

 

Which wander afar

 



 

 

Blue And Bluer

 

Blue and bluer

Expanses flutter

High above us

 

There we see the sky

That watched over you and me

And permitted us

To assault two worlds

To create our single one

 

We fear

A relapse

Be aware

We will draw the sky

Even deeper into dishonor

Than ourselves

 



 

 

 

Chechenia

 

Chechenia means in my language

The wise man

No-one can escape

The truth

That the man with power does not like it

When the powerless man is wise

 

A child from Samushky

Painted houses that are

Tanks and their windows

Burning tearful eyes

Passers-by have cannon stumps

Aimed at each other

In place of arms

Where the fingers should be

Are bubbling fist-clouds of smoke

From which

Bullets fly

Seeking out

The burning houses

And their windows gone blank

 

The foreigner will not leave

I know

Heís been inside my house

A hundred years and could live and die

Here as easily as there

I know this

Since I am the last poet of a people

That will not pass on without a struggle

 

 


 

 

Something On Earth

 

Something must have happened

On earth

The clouds

That towered

For days and nights above the steppe

Pushing dents

In my winter-tired tent

Are bursting apart now

Moving on in gray clumps

 

Perhaps a knot loosened

From the great tent whose roof struts

Are beams of sun, moon and wind

 

Or it was you who sent a bright thought

This way or lured from a hiding place

The dream which

Long expected

Only arrived last night

And which I

Hunkered in hope

Passed on to the coming day


 


 

 

Your Letter

 

Your letter descends

From its high arc of flight

Striking me

In the midst of my disciplined life

 

Frightened I fold

The piece of paper and try

To lock it back away in its envelope

Too late

 

The gunshot words

Have torn gaping breaches in me

Cartridges of efficiency

Lie spent

In my castle courtyard

 



 

 

At The Hour Of My Fervor

 

At the hour of my fervor

I was

Flung out as a breeze

Into the wide world

Now full-blown

Iíve grown to a wind

From height to height

 

For a long time

Iíve been aiming

At the pinnacle

From which I shall rise up

As a storm

 



 

 

If You Leave Me

 

If you leave me

I will turn to stone

On the north face of lifeís mountain

 

Exposed to the dust of time

I will hide myself

Burrowing into the soil

 

Dreams from past ages

Iridescent lichen

Will cover me with their growth


 


 

 

The Brake

 

Always

I am the brake

On the tracks

That carry you from me

 

Your landscapes

Now that Iíve set foot on them

Just lie there

Scarcely traversable for others

 

Even the streams

Flowing past you

Transmit my waves

 

Inescapably you crouch

In the web

That you spun with me

In frenzied fever††††††

 



 

 

Overnight The Forest

 

Overnight the forest

Has fallen silent

The maple floats in fog and

Fades

At gray borders of the cold damp meadow

If I know

How the dream ends

That has possessed me

For a thousand nights

Then today I will

Rip it out of me

Along with my own blood

Thrust it

Into the day without evening, without night

And so

Slip past

The rabble without tears

The land without sky

A refugee, a victor

 



 

 

Homesick

 

The wind of my steppe

Comes sneaking up

Behind me

With the moon and the stars

Which it has blown my way

Night after night

Breezing in a circle around

The spaces that I fill

It erases

The foreign traces from me

Evening after evening

I reach out

For the maternal hand

That can wash from me

Any vulnerability to be wounded

 

 


 

 

Your Face

 

Your face

Is the book in which

Others read us

 

Your skin

The sheet on which the years

Night out night in have lain

 

Fading in your autumnally light

Temples

Is the trace of a scar

From the flank of surreptitious happiness

Which at some point

Broke out in us

 

Your lips

Still pucker resolutely

At the advent of autumn

 

Your eyes

Alternately offer me

Your honey and your salt

 

The shadow

Falling now and then

On the outline of your cheeks

Is an accusation against me

 

And the blush beyond

Is my acquittal

 

Your face

Is the book in which

Others read us

And write further books

About us

 



 

 

White Peak

 

The white peak

Of lifeís mountain

Hovers above time

 

Its mane ripples towards me

Fluttering around me

I stand here beneath it

In chronological distress

 

Goosebumps are

My armor

Against the imminent winter of life

 



 

 

Leafing Through

 

Leafing through

The family album

With the faded photographs

You realize

 

You were a mushroom

That grew to a tree

Now underway

To stone

 

Nothing can tear you

Out of the earth

From which youíve grown

The inscriptions of the mountain steppe

Glisten in you

 

Underway to stone

Is your way home

 

 



 

Raven

 

The instrument

On which the raven blows

As he comes and goes

Must be of top-grade timber

 

A scrap of night

Darts through the day

Scaring muteness

From its pores

 

And filling its skin

With rattling vibrations

That simply cannot be

From death

 



 

 

November in Hamburg

 

The angry sea

Pours out

Like a curse

Splashing down

On the crooked

Black rooftops

 

Life glows

Hidden away

In fortresses

 

The lonely

Stare dementedly

At the blank eyes of walls

Nibbling with mousy courage

And sharing the love

With dogs and cats

That was rejected by humans

 

Outside sprawls

The city-world

Lame and tame

Sawn asunder

Without pause or mercy

By boxy-tin vehicles

Which rip its clogged arteries open and

Thundering towards each other

Drift past like ghosts

 

I must

Light

All the fires

Inside me

To withstand

This penultimate day

On earth

 

 


 

 

The Wind

 

May the wind

That rocked me to sleep

Shake you awake

Itís easy to trust the power

Of the distance

From me to you

To rouse the breeze to a storm

 

And so I wish you

The boldness to face

Whatever rushes your way

As its equal

 

 



 

Loneliness

 

The cloud dogs have

Once again swallowed up the day

And the anxiously awaited

Opportunity to place

A pickling flank of mutton before you

 

Evening overtakes the yurt

Nocturnally black

The shadows compress

Blacker than all nights

Of winter combined

The tilting eyes of our cooking grilles

Contort into gaping throats

Spitting and baring their teeth

 

The lantern glows, flickers and hisses

It must be the black hunchback

Sitting in the wick

Who will not allow the tallow to burn

The flame, that flickering blue cap

On the dwindling crooked head

Threatens to fly away

 



 

 

Once Again You

 

Once again you were

The patient soil on which

Lightning struck from the sky

You sat mute with fear

A young girl

Before the abyss

Of my blind outburst

 

Anticipating a counterstrike

I quickly fanned white-hot embers in me

But the strike was not to be

Instead I viewed a medley mood

From a pleading pair of eyes

 

I saw that and learned

That kisses are no master key

For a body

Locked away

 

The lesson came

With a beverage on the side:

The water from your eyes

Quenched my thirst

 

So I lay there drunken wet

As the night ended

Not knowing if ever or how

To lure out the pains

Barricaded

In your locked-away body

 

And that was the victory

You won in the dark night

At the valley floor of the tall town

Prior site of your frequent defeats

 

 



 

Old Song of Shamanic Magic

 

Do you hear, my spotted pony

What the magpie is jabbering?

The suitors

With drinks and bridal offerings

Are on their way

While the slender maiden

With the great dark eyes

Awaits

Whoosh, more quickly

 

If you can get me there

Sooner than the others

Then I will consecrate you on high

For the winds of the Altai alone

Will ride you

And some day your equestrian skull

Glacial white

Will rest on a mountain peak

†††††††††††

But if you fail

I will chop off

Your neck with its useless mane

Along with four unfit feet

And leave the bloody items

In a heap of hair and muck

For scavengers to pick at

Along with the slender maiden

With her great dark eyes

Still filled with tears

So that the man who undeservedly flies to her

Might die miserably

And the rotten flabby skin

With its sweet and tender patches

Might stick

In his throat, in his thighs

 

Your four slender sinewy feet

With wing-like pasterns

Carry fate for us both

Ride on, fly

You companion, you carcass

 

 



 

Where Were You

 

Where were you, dearest, where was I

At the hour those gentle lights shone

Across our steppe?

 

It seems to me, they broke away from

Our assembled fire and

Hurried on ahead of us

 

Interlaced

With the waving blades of grass

They flickered towards me

When I arrived there, drunken with you

 

And then while they

Flashed past me

With the fleeting antelopes

They pointed to a spot of earth

 

I understood

The struts of our yurt

And the soles of our children

Will trample them awake

 

 


†††††††††††

 

The Person Nesting

 

The person nesting

In the hollow

Of your left arm

 

With whom you

Crumple the heights and

Roll out the expanses

 

For whose sake you

Carry the morning across noon

And even an hour or so

Into evening

 

The person

Whose sun

Rises and sets in you

 

Whose river

Flows through your pond

Floating away the grit

 

The person who

For you and your heart

Is a yurt

 

Inside which

Rime frost of the ages

Blankets you gently as dew

Exalting you to a mountain

 

 


 

 

Evening Sky

 

Something is missing

In the evening sky

Gleaming across at me

Between the poplars

 

I think of a star

Flickering with tears

Whenever I grow conscious

Of where I am

 

Seven sun-hours distant

From everything thatís mine

A sparrow without nest or sky

Under a shrub of eyelids

 



 

 

To My Stone Companions

 

How can your touch

Be so cold and damp

You stones, my companions

 

You too are tear-stained

Children of my mountains

Playmates of my ancestors

 

Everyone looks up and

Marvels at us

To them we are

Simply a feast for the eyes

 

But who cares to

Understand enough

To remove our

Joys and pains

 

Who cares

To recognize in you

My partners

And in me your brother

 

Distant is the steppe

Your mother and mine

Who sends

Her sun across to us day by day

Her moon night by night

 

The dream

That Iíve jolted into life

Has joined forces with you

I see

 

Tell it

We ourselves are a dream

We have radiated our light

And will return

To Father Sky

Who dreamed us up


 


 

 

To My Mountain

 

Every stone has

Its place

On your body

 

What will I do

If someday I find

No more space

In the hollows

Of your stony slopes?

 

Likely I shall

Dissolve in the wind

To howl around you

With the hungry wolves

And the dismissed grasses

Of summertime

 



 

 

A Shout

 

A shout

Came to me

By night

 

It was wistfulness

Wrapped in sound

 

The wind-bent grass

Of the steppe

Lived inside it

 

Buzzing and blazing

 

 


 

 

To My Grandson

 

Welcome, you yelping bundle

Of Igrit race

Breathe your milky breath into my yurt

And ready yourself here with your grandfather

 

Youíve been awaited on an earth

That has hosted me all told

Tolerably well for eighteen thousand days

 

At the hour of your advent

No doubt a foal arrived as well

Out there in the steppe

Horse and rider now

Can race together toward maturity

 

In the wooden cradle

Too wide for you today

Once lay your ancestors

For whom the world

Was often too narrow

 

Hurry, small stone from the great mountains

On you I impose the duty

Of carrying on the nomadic race

By living me forward

 



 

 

Arrival

 

Sky over Germany

Curtain of lead

Lining the path of quick flight

For a nomadic child

 

Sky without sun

Man without a shadow

 

Knowingly

People look at each other

Knowing how to be silent

In the company

Of others

 

 



 

Flexible

 

Flexible

I have become

Like the wind

I conquer distances

Climb the heights

Sneak around corners

Wend my way

Mountain-downward

To the valley

Passing through eyes of needles

Blowing across fields

Where foreign honey ripens

 

Flexible

I have become

Like wind at the hour

Of autumnal twilight

And just as

Lonely

 



 

 

What Is That Rushing Sound?

 

What is that rushing sound

Across the mountaintops

At the hour

When day follows night?

 

The wind

Says one

The forest

Claims another

 

It is time

Scattering sulfur dust

Across the tracks of life

My blood pulses

My skin twitches

 

From the flickering

Half-light of dawn

The arrow of a clock hand

Flies at me

Poking and piercing me

Over and over

 

I crumble to sand

Rustling and running

Away

 

 



 

The Great Wind of the World

 

The great wind of the world

Lives in my Altai

Hunting in a herd

Of swirling wind-

Horses

 

Morning after morning

Riders splinter off

From the group

To sweep across grass and stone

And slit the steppe open

At numerous horizons

 

Threads of dust

Pull wind-foals after them

Whinnying and thundering

As they grow to

Lightning mares and storm stallions

 



 

 

Everyday Work

 

Each morning we return

To our entitled places

In the salary office of life

Smudging away time

So that no doubt remains

About the salt eating at us

 

 


 

 

Heart-Shaped

 

The print

That my light burns

Onto leaves

Of the freezing Ginkgo tree

Must be heart-shaped

 

The steppe in me

Shakes off the rime frost

Even before sun

Rises

 

Craziness

Today I will

See you again

 

 



 

Foothill Snow

 

My thoughts of you

Rest on whiteness

 

In the foothills of the Altai

It snowed meters deep

The light of your words

Reached out to me and

Screened me off against the night

That you and I now share

At two ends of the land

 

What do you see

When you no longer see me?

The blue flames of snow

Into which I bundle my thoughts

As they swirl around me?

 

They seem to be coming down

Extra quickly now,

Plunking down at your feet

With the sweet smell

Of moldering grass

 

 



 

Pale Light

 

Wind sifts

Pale light

 

Sand rambles softly

Through the space between worlds

Landing in folds and gaps

Of a nameless day

 

I know the forest beyond many mountains

Is stiff and mute

For the trickling of time

Has settled on its branches

 

Somewhere an unfulfilled soul

Stares into the void

And spits on gravel

In which ashes have slept

Extinguished for millions of years

 

Life has moved beneath

The fingers of death

 



 

 

Forget-Me-Not

 

Misshapen sky-colored stains

Announce imminent summer

Hill after hill

Unfolding across every horizon

 

Where dust clouds

From departing riders

Float up with butterflies of the sun

To silently descend

Like dew

At our feet

 

A bridge of speechlessness

Spanning from me to you

On which we move

Towards an eternity

Just begun

 



 

 

Look Up

 

Look up

See the snowflakes

Floating down

 

They are travelers coming home

 

They inhabited this earth

Before you and me

They are ancestors, brothers and sisters

Companions in time and space

Then sand, wind, stars

That rested, blew, flickered

 

Many of them

Perhaps we knew

Lived with them

In harmony

But often in bitter

Discord as well

 

Now they have

Become clouds

And return home as snow

 

Listen to

Their rushing sounds

It is a whispering

About you or me

†††††††††††

Be silent

As they are

Fearing

To wake us

From the dream

Called life

 

 


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