Himalayan White

Two days to drive from Thimpu 
we must abandon our jeeps and GPS 
and wait for amenable weather. 
My host’s name is Pencho. I try to ask 
him the name of his silent daughter. 
Pencho just laughs. I look away. 
‘There are many ravens,’ I say. 
Once more he laughs. 
I am woken by the insistent spinning 
of a prayer wheel at the edge of the village. 
From my window I watch men and beasts 
jangling up the slopes toward a cool summer. 
The following day it is our turn to climb 
into the thinnest air. We are soon possessed 
by the desire to suspend 
our sentences. 
I crouch in a forest of prayer flags, 
surrounded by the colours of the five elements 
and the susurration of prayers being peeled 
from flags by wind, but it is hard to believe 
in the existence of other sentient beings 
in need of blessings. It feels as if we 
are the first rush of mortals into the mountains, 
and over the next ridge we will find deities 
constructing another impossible dzong. 
After a storm, the huddled yak are parted 
to reveal a capsized bull, hoarfrosted 
but jelly-eyed. It mewls. Someone must 
break its neck. The rest of us distribute 
its load among the survivors. A squinting 
guide delivers what may be a proverb: 
Although my eyes are open, they can also close. 
Days in, a running stream defies reason; 
provides the ghost of a mirror; diminishes 
its own miracle with our rough reflections. 
There is an argument. Nothing is explained. 
As always, my understanding is incidental. 
Upon our return, the women pretend not 
to care: we have only been walking. 
It is in the village rather than on the ascent 
that I truly appreciate the difficulty 
and simplicity of life at altitude: 
it is as if every dying wife takes with her 
one piece of Life that does not do 
what it says it will on the label. 
After a hot stone bath prepared by Pencho’s 
daughter, I find my host in a grand mood. 
Later there will be a village fête of some sort. 
For now we sit by the light of butter lamps, 
sipping fearsome moonshine. His daughter 
serves us buckwheat noodles, looking bored. 
We three eat in silence until there is a clang 
outside the window. Curious, I rise and see 
a young boy standing over a dropped dramyin
Pencho’s daughter is at my shoulder. I turn to her, 
and she to me. Her cardboard mouth 
contorts into a music-loving smile 
and I join the yak-line for love. 


Craig Cliff currently lives in Edinburgh and works for a global financial services company; he rates the impact of the credit crunch on his life as a three-point-five. His poetry has appeared in TroutBlackmail Press, and Snorkel, and his fiction most recently in Best New Zealand Fiction Volume 5.