Galsan Tschinag


Oracle Stones as Red as the Sun:


Songs of the Shaman


Translated by Richard Hacken

From Galsan Tschinag, Sonnenrote Orakelsteine: Schamanengesänge
(Frauenfeld, Switzerland: Waldgut Verlag, 1999)

Return to: The Poetry of Galsan Tschinag


Words like Wind

A Foreword by Amélie Schenk


In the beginning is the word. The word is forceful; it animates, it kills, it blesses, it damns. This is true for a people unfamiliar with written language sharing orally transmitted epics, songs – and stories in particular. We refer to the Tuvans of Central Asia, whose smallest subgroup lives in the High Altai of Mongolia.

Language is always something holy in older cultures. Cautious handling of language is important. Children are told: “Listen carefully! Why do you have two ears and one mouth?” Being able to listen is the art of life. The young have to listen; only with age do they earn the right to speak.

            “From the mouth comes the future,” say the Tuvans. And so one word pulls the next along after it.  Words flow into deeds; they are deeds.

            Certain things that are great and grand – things honored and feared because they could be dangerous – are not called by their actual name.  Not the sky; not the holy grandfather mountain which is neither climbed nor conquered; not the great river whose actual name is  Homdu – one says “mother” instead, or “maternal sister.” To name something means to awaken it, to create it. To name the wolf means to call him into your presence.  The word is forceful.  And among shamans the spirits are not named specifically; instead they say: “His things, they are coming.”  Only the shaman himself may name the spirits by name when he is calling them forth. 

            Underlying all this is the shamanic worldview that leapfrogs over centuries of time and nullifies causal connections, mentally condenses space, and regards communication with and between all beings and all matter, indeed all existence, as self-evident.  All life is yoked into an all-encompassing power field in which even the quietest thought moves the entire universe, entirely within the sense of Einstein’s dictum: “When a living being – such as a mouse – observes the universe, that changes the condition of the universe.”

            We in our Western civilization are strongly inclined to the idea that, when all is said and done, we are alone in a hostile universe and that all life and activity are meaningless.  The shaman lives the aliveness of his being, weaving connective strands to various beings and objects and helping to shape the great network that constitutes the inner connectivity and the unity of all things.  He stands in the ancient tradition of philosophia perennis.  Everything is bound up in everything else, one thing stands for another, and the conscious being has access to all other forms of consciousness. 

            With words, with his song, the shaman pushes forward.  For the word pulls something along behind it. It has an effectual power.  It is more than a sound; it has weight, warmth and light: it carries life.  Thoughts are energy; the word is solidified energy.  Words are energy transmitters.  If something comes out of me – I can breathe, blow air, whisper, read poetry, sing, cheer, blubber, shriek – in each case my breath, the wind of my soul, my life energy comes out as well.  Magical chants, incantations for healing, prayers, words of blessing or curses precipitate an effect if they come forth with the requisite amount of life energy.  The more weight behind it, the more effect.

            Unique for a Tuvan shaman is that each one is a poet, a singer. Everything for him is song built on verse.  The grand objects of this world are invoked with an elevated language.  Song is the kindling, and it kindles with words, igniting its own creations, taking on greater and greater heat, leading to ecstasy, to a trance.  Thus proceeds the dialogue with spirits, with the elements.

            He is at the mercy of the water, the wind, the fire, the earth – these elements; they blow along and pass through him.  These are the forces of nature that bring man into movement, and soon he is bobbing down the stream like a piece of driftwood.  That’s when song is born.  His thoughts are driven onward by streaming and foaming powers and he enters into the flow: his heart pounds, his breath quickens, the song rises up.  It happens.  Verses descend; the primordial power is at work.  One word yields the next, tumbling onto the tongue; then the tongue passes it on, dragging that word along and combining it with everything else, with the creator and whatever surrounds him.  The words have effectual power and thus they create actuality, just as at the first hour of creation.  That is the shaman’s song of power. 


            On the ninth day of the ninth month in the year nineteen hundred ninety-nine

            Amélie Schenk





Chronicle of Madness


Where animals enjoy respect but not love

And the laps of women are available to children

The end of the Year of the Blue Dog comes to an end

It takes a lot away with it, but leaves much more behind

Above all a legend still in labor pains




The red-cheeked shepherd girl Galby dips

Water from the milk-white River Ak-Hem

And sees not the mountains’ brightly bubbling blood

But little green fish pouring into her bucket

In an endless chain

Though the first winter month is long past

It’s raining, it’s hailing

And the grains of ice jump and twitch

While a white foaming stream retreats




Hail floods the ground and the pail

The fish leap out and swim away

Grow to yaks and dash away from each other

A cyclone, a piece of night, jumps into the fray

Rolling the stream up from one end

Bundling the shepherdess inside and swirling her

Past the scattering herd and away




Fish are running

Yak-like from each other

Yaks are swimming

Fish-like towards each other

Their fin-hairs stand on end

Flashing sharp as knives

And their edges morph into flames

Blowing and fluttering




Like a rag she twirls

Above and below them

Stumbles across the flags

Is beaten lengthwise and crosswise

Cut by the knives, bleeds

Singed by the flames, burns

Suffers agonizing, most agonizing pain




Tumbling about, she arrives at the herders’ camp

Feels a hand grabbing her

Sees a figure stand before her

It is Pirvi

Grandmother and shaman

Who returned home

One winter and two summers ago

“Let nobody enter this place all night

Until I have purified it for you!”

She hears the friendly voice, rough and hoarse




The door flies open

A surging body

With foaming mouth rushes in

And stands there

Face distorted

Eyes wildly fixed:

The quiet neighbor-child

Hut and hearth paralyze in horror

A dozen questions as from a single mouth

Not one answer




The great and difficult moment

Of the mother has arrived

The great and beautiful moment

Of the child has arrived

Outsiders have to look away

The mother’s hand liberates and cleanses

The child’s body from its four-fold wetness

And holds it to her

The warmth of her skin

Quickly drives from the other

Coldness and all the other suffering




But then the mother wants to carry

The child to her own hearth

Opposing her

Every hair becomes an awl

Every finger, every tooth a knife:

“Nobody sets foot on the threshold

Until the morning sun

Has shone upon the door!”




“Lay down and rest! Do you hear me, Galby?”

“She once was, but now she is no more!”

“Don’t talk like that, oh, my child…”

“I am not your child, I am your mother!”

“You poor…”

“Poor you call me?  You’re taking the Blue Sky

Much too much for granted!”

“Just what can I do?”

“Get me my cap!”




Under the morning’s climbing amber sun

A rider leaves the camp toward each point of the compass

And the last of them returns

Just at the last ray of the sinking sun

Each appears with something

That the shaman possessed during her days on earth

But which she then, before the end,

Shared among those that remained behind

Besides the cap of red satin

There was an earring of white silver

Pea-sized oracle stones as red as the sun

Forty-one in number

Tied up in a piece of cloth

And an algae-green hip-flask

That holds three swallows more

Than other such containers




Swung across clouds of  juniper smoke

The items make their way

To the still raging woman

And behold: as each is received

The fire subsides by one bundle of flames

Until at last she becomes tranquil

Listens and yawns and

Blows out the newly lit candle –

Pauses and begins to sing




Everyone is jolted with astonishment:

For it is the song of the shaman herself

The wise woman and the very voice of Pirvi

Familiar to the ear and also to the heart

Her daughter – previously her mother –

Groans, with shaking hands reaching to and fro

As she hurries to find

Milk for ceremonial spraying

Her son-in-law – previously her father –

Groans in the gathering darkness

As he hurries

To gather and orient stones together

In the same directions as the thirteen sacrificial stone cairns of the Altai

Someone breaks out in tears

Others follow

Soon all are sobbing at the tops of their voices

They are like shouts of rejoicing




The song lasts for all the night

This full night no eyelids close

Into each ear penetrates

Like fat into leather

The tale of return

After four-hundred-twenty days

That follow after eight-two years

Spirits are called forth

Spirits seem to appear

At daybreak the figure becomes recognizable

Everyone is jolted anew with astonishment

It is HER, her indeed.




The song continues

Now with pauses like breaths

Eighteen nights slip away

The people trade off waking and watching

But the shaman stays at her work without rest

The news is like a fire

Darting across grass

From near and far the people stream

On horseback, on foot and also on wheels

Convincing themselves that she has returned, she

Who had been such a final, worthy mother for the land




In the nineteenth night

She awakens from her madness and falls asleep

Yet it is a short, troubled sleep

Interrupted by a dream

Requiring a decision:

To travel

But where?

To the place where the body lies

For the mirror must also be there

And it must be returned!




On wheels the shaman moves

Upward into the Haraaty Valley

Squatting between her mother-daughter

And the driver, who assumes every wheel circumference

Of the way to be paved with banknotes

And he plies mother and daughter

With his mocking-merry sideward glances

And his calculating-demanding commentary

Beyond the windshield the snowstorm sweeps

Across the grass and gravel of the steppe

Quickly erasing all traces

But also throwing open the question

All the more bluntly: How will this trip end?




The man is a stranger to the area and blind to faith

The woman knows the region only from a burial

But it was summer then

And in place of the present white-gray armor of ice

The steppe had rested then under a billowing green sea

The soles of the girl’s feet have never touched

This spot of ground

And so a trio travels in search of a palm-sized mirror

Of clumped and colored glass

They are not the first to seek

A sewing needle in a pile of hay




Ever more sluggishly, the wheels break through the icy armor

Until at last, robbed of power, they cannot continue one finger-breadth more

The driver shovels and digs in vain

For only smoke and steam escape the spinning wheels

The shaman, like clouds floating

High above arduous but trivial troubles

Stares ahead and sings to herself

All of a sudden she sees

Her grandmother standing

Three lasso-tosses ahead in the snowy steppe

At once she rushes toward her

The latter disappears, but where she had stood

Something lies flickering and flashing

A light-green stone fish with eyes

Mouth, fins and a bright belly




She returns with the fish nestled in her arms like a child

Climbs in and says: “Let’s drive on!”

The driver mocks her: “Fine, if YOU have all the answers!”

But her certainty remains:

“Now you’ll be able to.”

With a powerful stomp he hits the accelerator

Doing so to show her it won’t work

In order to blaspheme even more rudely

With heightened rage

Against her and her spirits

Yet the vehicle leaps forward as

The ice cracks away under the wheels

The man stutters and trembles

But she has no time to pay attention




In the very middle of the ocean of snow

She asks to come to a stop and tells

The other two to stay inside and keep quiet

She herself climbs out, moving off

To the side, singing, yelling and listening

She asks questions and answers them, waits and walks

Keeps to the left, keeps to the right

Then steps straight ahead and bends down

The watching, waiting eye of the shaman

Peers forth from the snow: the mirror




With rejoicing she swirls back

When she’s halfway

A whirlwind circles in behind her

Shrouding her in white thunder

A blow strikes her

Echoing laughter is her reply

Then she sees the bullet fall to earth

That has just struck her:

Heavily gleaming silver in the size and shape

Of a sheep knuckle

“Hold on to it!” she hears a voice say

“And you will be released for now!”





To the Storm


The reason I turn to you, here’s why:

My mother, your playmate

Has difficulty standing beneath her years

Has quaking, icy hands and feet

Leave the door flap at peace

Let it hang straight and

Allow the ever flighty warmth

No escape from the yurt

I beg you, friend

Sepp, sepp, sepp!


The reason I bother you again, here’s why:

My mother, your sister

Lies dying

Needs strength for her last heartbeats

Needs listening for her last words

Leave the ever shaky yurt

At peace

I beg you, brother

Sepp, sepp, sepp!


The reason I approach you again, here’s why:

My mother, your servant

The sacrificial object with whose pains

You satisfy your desires

The salt vessel from whose bitterness

You toughen your raw hide

Is now stone, now crags

Doesn’t need you anymore

Rage on, you blind deaf-mute, to wherever

Your evil reaches

May your deaf ear

Shred itself to bits

May your mute tongue


May your blind eye

Be crushed

Against the brow of stone

Against the ridges of rock

And may you die a miserable death, you monster

Happ! happ! happ!






To a Stag Deer


Know this, brother

The imprints of your cloven hooves

Split the pathway under my calloused soles

I must turn

From the roe

From the fox

From the rabbit

And follow you


Like a blue wolf

With its white incisors

I shall peel you

Off the gray rock

With its red warts

Off the black larch trees

With their green bristles and

Point my bared incisor

The long iron tube

With lurking lead in its throat

Directly at you


It is

Your red, pulsing meat

Drenched in streams

Of red, seething blood

Packed into taut patterns of deerskin

That I hunt

It is the voracious monster in me

The stomach, that must be satisfied

And it drives me after you

Without your pulsing red meat

Without your seething red blood

It will shrivel and dry up

And I will become food

For red foxes and black worms


Listen, brother

Your cloven hooves

Have splintered a spear

Along the pathway under my calloused soles

And now it is pursuing


Sharpened and ready



When your patterned skin

Shows itself to my eyes

When my awakened nose

Catches a whiff of

The pulsing red meat

And the seething red blood

No time will remain

For words

So now in advance:

Accept my thanks, brother, and forgive me


I shall


Your taut skin

Your pulsing meat und

Flowing blood

With the same trembling hand

With the same numbing reverence

As I would my passing father

As I would my coming child





To the Glacier


Ehi, great glacier, look here and listen

You are related to me

Let me tell you how that is:

You are white and dazzling

As the nit eggs laid

 in my grandson’s mouth

The mountain in a dream


Ehi, great glacier, look here and listen

You are doubly related to me

Let me tell you the reason:

You are white and melt away in various places

You change your color

Like mother’s milk

Which filled me

Raised me

Fermented to blood

Ran to flesh and

A wild autumn growth

At my temples

Where I am now

On my way to mountain


Ehi, great glacier, look here and listen

You are triply related to me

Let me tell you why:

You are white as what

Has arrived at the mountain

Left over from ancestors

And petrified


Ehi, great glacier, look here and listen

You and I can never run

From each other


Related, now water, later blood

From milk and

Previous flesh, finally stone

On legs


White is the color

In which our tribe

Flows and runs together





To the Wolf and to the Horse


Ow-ooh-eh, wolf

Dog of the mountains and the steppes

Certified by the heavens to let blood

You are trained and find your place

In a chasm-funnel of fierce and concentrated force

But know this:


Four quick lean legs

And perhaps every hundred tries

A waving, black-bearded mane

Are given to you

As horse

Yet the hoof beat

That thundered here on the winter steppe

Breaks away from its stiffening

At the other end

And forces me, wandering fragment

To bear the noble deed

Across gaping distances

To other fragments bitterly missing me

And thus to restore the disturbed wholeness

Again and again

Before it consumes itself

This noble deed

Belongs only to


To your victim

That you cast from a swirling, heart-pounding life path

To eat hollow and to leave

As rotting carcass

For jackals, vultures and worms


Ee-hah-ehi, horse

My companion, my second half

On the colorfully checkered paths and ways

Of fate

To me you are flowing wind –- milk

Aromatic wind –- flesh

Supportive wind –- ligaments and bones

Yet you must admit:


Over the stony, treacherous globe of earth

You flee

From your own shortcomings

On four quick, lean legs

As does the wolf

You are equipped

With sharp hooves

Making each of you capable

Of kicking to pulp

The thieving creature on wobbly stumps

Packed in bare, callused hooves

Overwhelming in your size

Your skull is like his

Sitting on a jaw with no less teeth

You have everything he has

Except for a bit of good fortune


Each of your encounters

With him

Why, oh why

Ends ingloriously for you

So I feel the need to howl for you

Wolf-like, man-like: ow-oo-eh, ee-hee-eee!






To the Sky


I have transformed myself

Because I had to

Into a tree

With all my branches

I glow

With all my buds

I blossom

Up towards you

Let the sun shine

Stretch your enlivening

Roots down to me


I have transformed myself

Because I had to

Into a river

Gurgling black water

I flow

Silent black fish

I swarm

Up towards you

Let your rain come down

Hold your freshening

Roots down to me


I have transformed myself

Because I had to

Into a mountain

My bare skull

Attracts the snow

Layering it up to a glacier

My crust catches the dust

Weaving it into braids

Let down your lightning

Send your scorching

Roots down to me


I shall

Because I must

Arrive where you are and

Join myself with you

So that I

Am more by as much

As you are

And you

Are more by as much

As I am




Song of Farewell to the Teacher


You have been

The leaf of a tall tree

You have been

The stone of a great mountain



You have become

A tree yourself

You have become

A mountain yourself



Now you must go


To the trees

You must go


To the mountains



You leave behind


You tall tree

You leave behind


You great mountain





What I Am


I am grass that grows

In the harsh early spring

In the succulent summer

Then comes autumn

With its hoar-frost

Followed by winter

With its snow

With its storms


I am grass allowed to grow

That must dry

And be crushed

By the hoar-frost

By the snow

And the storms


I am storm that blows

Three days and


Three-times-three nights long

Until forced to shatter

Against the rocks


I am storm that blows and goes


I am rock that stands

Nine lives and


Nine-times-nine eternities long

Until forced to crumble

Under the stabs of grass

And the blows of storm


I am rock

That stands and passes on




Selling Off a Simpleton Who Couldn’t Solve a Simple Riddle


[Note: For a German-language explanation of  riddle-posing and  riddle-solving practices among the Tuvans, see: Erika Taube,

 “Von den Rätseln der Tuwiner im Altai,”  Mitteilungen aus dem Museum für Völkerkunde (52) 1988, pp. 56-60.]



It is not the meanness of my tongue

Wanting to impose this

No, it is the shallowness of your own head

That brings it on you

Know this, little brother

If this evening

Should bring spice

Let tomorrow

Bring clarity

I intend to sell you off

Because seven times

Seven shameful, punishable times

You were unable to solve

The riddle given you

Now listen what I plan

To do with you


I shall dissolve you

Into hard, soft and flowing parts

And separate you

Into one-hundred-eight chunks

Of bone, gristle and sinew

Forty-nine clumps

Of skin, glands and fat

And twenty-one rivulets

Of water, mucus and broth

Which out of respect

Not exactly to you

Riddle-deaf and riddle-mute

But indeed to the other

Ears that hear

Noses that smell

Tongues that taste

Eyes that see

And skins that feel

I shall not name more precisely

And so I shall divide you up

And sell you

And whosoever wants some part

Let him speak up now


Here, dear customers, is the skull

That held fast

Against a watery brain

For all of sixteen years

It is round, made of heavy

Thick bone,  impregnable

To heat, cold or the tooth of any beast

Properly soldered at the seams

It could serve good and well

As a drinking cup or alms-collecting dish

For the gluttons of Lamas in their cloister

At the junction of the Rivers Ohy and Ahy

Or as a piss-pot or spittoon

For the ever-lazy princes in the land

Behind the Steppes of Uhy and Ehy

This skull I shall now deliver

In exchange for a fully-grown louse

With six crooked legs

And two bent antennae

Who wants it?


The Rivers Ohy and Ahy

Must flow far away from here

As also the Steppes Uhy and Ehy

Must lie many mountain ranges distant

For I hear their names

For the first time from your mouth

Great merchant

In our country here we have

No gluttons of Lamas

Nor ever-lazy princes

We are people

Who are usually full and

Who only seldom tire of work

And we have our drinking cups

Made of hard root-wood

That’s good enough for us

And as for pissing and spitting

We have better containers –

The many thousands

Of folds and crevices in the earth

That patiently take anything

I see, great merchant, here you will find

No buyers

For your highly touted wares


The skull in question

Is good for something better

For at the present

We have two pups growing up

Sharing a single bowl for now

But soon

Another will be needed…


Just perfect

No dog could have

A better dish than this

Made from the shell of a once-used

Human brain


Easy, easy, great merchant

I suppose I can expect

You’ll go down another notch

In the price you’ve named

Outrageous as it is?


But of course, dear customer!

I have the dish, you have the dog

Everything else is just a game

Best left

To the populace of toddler lice

To that heap of cold and stupid nits

And so I shall rush towards you

Not just one step

But as many leaps

As you might wish, dear friend

For I am, I know

A merchant holding trash

Mere garbage, indeed

And so now here’s my deal:

A fully-grown louse

On six crooked legs

And with two bent antennae

Is what I asked for, I believe

But let’s make a discount

To a louse

If no other can be caught

That is a juvenile, perhaps

Limping on one leg if you like

Or completely legless

Crawling and without antennae

Just as you please, the main thing is

At least I get something

And above all something lousy…


It sounds so good, hoy,

When you reach out to me

Great merchant

We might quickly

Come to an agreement

But our deal

Has a slight problem

Since at the moment

I have no nit handy

Let alone a louse…


Don’t mention it, honorable gentleman!

Take the item desired

Just take it and forget

All the ugly haggling

Very soon you yourself

Will not only have lice

But your dog

Will have fleas

In hordes and herds

And then it will be easy

For you to repay me

Your creditor…


Fine, Ill take the trash

Off your hands

But you’ll understand

If I don’t express

My gratitude for it

You poor, poor merchant…


Now at last here’s a new item

A pair of eyes, admittedly fixed

In a stare of inherent stupidity

Yet thoroughly utilitarian still

For seeing afar


The old man that I am

Needs light from such young eyes

Each morning

I shall view and count with them

The marmots of the northern mountains

And view and count each evening

The squirrels of the southern steppe

If you’ll give them up for some flatulence

I would be most happy to have them


From such an old man as you

Flatulence would be too much to ask

Even a belch should suffice

They’re just two slits

Inadvertently named eyes

Just take them, take them…


So that you might be rid

More quickly of your trash

I’ll stick to my word

Yet these pathetic slits

Will have

Totally different things

To look at

Than marmots and squirrels

Of the mountains and the steppes

The old man I am

With a  rejuvenated sense

Knows that already, dear merchant…


The next item for sale: a nose

With both nostrils once stuffed

Full of snot, but now emptied clean

And still good enough

For smelling perhaps?


Oh yes, I will take it

Since my own is not good enough

When I ride

Past the City of Teh

In the Desert of Heh

Every seven years

On the seventh day

Of the seventh month

Now I will


My new smeller

And stroll past

The makeshift market stalls

Without hurry or fear

I will stop

At this one or that one

And stick my new smeller

Into some corner or other

And fully suck in the stink

So that the region

Round about the poor visitors’ misery

Can be ventilated

By at least one nostril’s worth

Dear merchant, I will

Not be petty

And am resolute enough

To offer you

A full blade of grass

For your pathetic trash…


Now comes the next item for sale

A tongue

That could not have been better suited

To certain purposes

To reach specific caverns

And liberate them

From certain attachments

And expulsions

I would give it away for the shadow

Of a kite gliding past…


I will take it

Having long  known its value:

I will have

The rosy bottoms

Of my nine yellow-headed children

Along with the honorific one of their mother

And the stinking asses

Of Hound Bazar and Bitch Gezer

Whsh-whsh lapped up clean

Whenever they’ve done their business

It will also

Plt-plt lick

All dewy and festering

Urinary or spermatic openings

Of my five-times-five-hundred-headed herd

Between two suns and between two moons

It’s just that I need, great merchant,

To ask for your understanding

At this hour

No kite is flying past

And even if one were doing so

No shadow would hang down from it

For me to grab

In order to pay you

For the article I want so badly

So all that remains

Is for me to ask you

To leave me in your debt

Until the youthful hour

Of tomorrow’s sun

When night has passed and

Day has come

I will

With two eyes

Four pointy legs

And eight glands of a marmot

That lies as yet unskinned

Next to a pile of clothing

In my yurt

Walk out into the steppe

And hail a hundred kites

To blanket you with swarming bird shadows

If that’s what you desire
But somehow I doubt that


You’re right

What use to me is a shadow

Consisting by mere oversight

Of winged and ravenous beasties

Yet I shall thank you

For your generosity

By repaying you

In a manner munificent:

In addition to the non-tiresome tongue

Which not only pokes about in foreign openings

But even more often

Promotes and demands its own case

From its own main opening

In order to mess with the minds of others

Requiring at times that it fork nicely

Let me add – without extra charge, of course –

A pair of most donkeyesque ears


If I can be honest here

You’re making me suspicious, Sir,

The creator must have had me

Firmly in mind

As he formed me

With what you call ears

Since the two protuberant thingies

Above my shoulders there

Those two

Pathetic scraps of cartilage

Bitten to sieves

By mosquitoes of the summer

Scraped to rasps

By ice storms of the winter

Much too often receive

What is not designed for them

Now I should take on one more pair

No, by the heavens above, no!


That’s precisely why you need

This pair from my bundle of junk

Since they, as inferior rubbish,

Can attract and hold

Everything from the slime pits of this earth

Leaving for your own honorable and worthy ear

Only the loftiest of messages


Well, I must say

Your words are most convincing…


Finally we can move on

Now it’s time for the mouth and the teeth

They won’t be separated

And therefore you’ll find

The two-for-one price most considerable:

A thumbnail of soil

Impregnated with spit


We have all seen

The most recent moon sickle

Laying on its back

It had been tipped over

This means the spring will be hard

Famine could rage

And we should take on another gluttonous

Fully toothed mouth – no!


The spring could become

Hard and provisions might run low, certainly,

But black-haired man has never yet

Died of hunger

Something has always dropped from the plate

And that’s how it will be again this time

But let’s just assume nothing is left over

No sinews, no glands, not even

Bones or broth from kettle scrapings

At least the dogs will still have

Their droppings left behind

Good enough for the stink-sack with teeth

It will

Whsh-whsh lap up

The slimy summer droppings

Grt-grt chew

The strands of winter droppings


Good fellow, you have made me

Think inventive thoughts

I have an old dog

And an even older gelding

The old feeding sack there

That you want to get rid of

Could come to my place

And pre-chew the food

For both my old friends

So there would be no need

For things to reach the extreme

You had in mind

Those good, young teeth

Could grind food for my two oldsters

And help them make it through the spring

Whatever food it might need

To nourish itself

Is none of my concern, but woe

If it thinks this job

Is a chance to feast its fill

Above the feed trough

Hangs the whip

And it is heavy and sharp!


Lighter by one less piece of trash

Thank the heavens!

Yet some nuisance remains

The newest commodity consists of:

Two hands, both of them left ones

Each will cost you a teardrop


No matter, I’ll take them

The one as a manure fork

The other as a backscratcher

The old, simple woman that I am

With my eyesight shutting down

And my mangy wrinkled skin

Will reach under the wrong pile

Pass over the rightful target

But that is no worry of mine

For all they are, they’re just

Bits and pieces of a damned

Body ripe for extermination

And you, lowly junk-dealer,

Will settle

On a discount, I hope,

Since my ability to pay

Is limited to just one source

One of my eye sockets

Long bereft of light

Has swollen shut

With cancerous flesh

And covered itself  over

With dried epidermis

So though I offer only half the price

My credit is excellent:

A late vintage from the stunted hollow of light

Fermented through a senselessly long life

Perhaps the very last tear

A tear bitter as poison, real as murder


Certainly you have cause


For such words

I know

As for me

I would rather offer you quietly

My own two arms

With the pair of sturdy fists attached

Their ten nimble fingers

And rippling muscles

Than to loudly hawk

These accursed and shadowy ones

But we are now in the middle

Of a game

And games do have

Their rules


So now

Let’s move forward

Once again we have a commodity pair

That absolutely

Cannot be separated

They were legs previously

That carried

A continuously growing body

Impressively enough

Through worlds and ages

Sixteen summers

And sixteen winters long

Let an exultant laugh

From the pit of your stomach

Be their purchase price!


Whether or not laughter

Slumbers in the pit

Of my poor stomach, and if so

Whether it is capable of exultation at all

Is something I don’t know

More likely it would be a sigh

I fear

For my own two stilts

Refuse to serve me anymore

Perchance they’re tired?

Well then, I need those legs

With their firm muscles

And flexible tendons

And I want them to be

Unthinking and perfect slaves

Of a body stewing in its own gall

Because it’s been abandoned


Finally I have here

A grand and jelly-like heap

Consisting of

An over-fattened heart that’s failing

Two horrified kidneys growing cold

One coughing, puffing lung

One crashing, failing liver

One grumbling, voracious stomach

Endless sets of intestinal loops

A senseless tangle of trivialities

And countless hollow spaces

With foul-smelling gases…

As a price may I suggest

Nothing more, nothing less

Than a nightmare

Sufficient to fill a winter’s night!


Ehy, great sky

Where could I find that?

You really can’t demand that much terror

From all the lands where nomads roam

Let alone from this pitiful handful

Inhabiting three winter-tight yurts!


You could be right with regard to the quantum

Of horror

Yet the amount that I offer

Is also enormously horrendous

Each of you could, if you wanted,

Stretch it lengthwise to encircle a mountain

Beat it crosswise to blanket a steppe

Pluck it into fluff to transform a day

Into night!


Your words strike me

Squarely at the top of my skull

But what can I do

If by the mere mention

Of your dubious wares

I sense in me

The burning thirst

Of a horse

Now finally-finally

Running to the waters of a lake

But still do not possess

The seven-fold cursed asking price, sir?


If that inverted bowl atop your head

Is filled with anything other than water

You offer what you do have!


Well then listen

What I can offer you right now:

Seven times seven mouse droppings

The size of sela peas

The color of mela grass

And seventy-seven impressions

Of the limping left foot

Of the oldest of the seven

Jelbeg women


Give them here

And take away the heap

Hopefully you will have nothing

To regret later


I should hope

The same coinage connects

Buyer and seller!


With that a fathom-long

Fathom-thick load

Is lifted from my shoulders

What remains I leave

To the forces and beings

That spurn no garbage

And spare no effort

To destroy it totally

For it’s not worth

Even mentioning again

Let alone extolling

It is, all of it, just

Worthless junk

Whose existence

Or non-existence

Really doesn’t matter…


Well now, young fellow, you who were forced

To provide the eerie and dreary

Entertainment of one evening

Listen well, little brother:

Today was the day of your defeat

But even more so that of your hide being tanned

You have revealed

The puzzle-deficient, riddle-clueless inner you

But I have sold him off

And everyone else has destroyed him

So now he no longer exists

And space has opened up inside you

A space for riddle solving

But first you need to search for it

When you shall one day have found it

I, the same person who had to deal

With your former self

And had to suffer the pains of an unwilling butcher,

Will raise up the newly discovered inner hero

To the victor’s throne and praise him loudly

And then you may

Finally recover

From this present evening

And grow euphoric at your victory


Indeed, sad to say,

On some evening or other

Still slumbering ahead of you

You yourself might be the one

Who needs to sell me off

If I lose my way in the forest of riddles

Me, the one who just this once

Pounced on you

With the rapidity of an arrow

With the blood lust of a wolf

And the rudeness of a shaman


Liberating powers of perception

Angry ambition

And continual victory

I wish for you

Along with the yellow teeth

And white hair that once before

I wished for you, mangy maverick yearling and

Snot-nosed kid I saw before me tonight!


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