The hundred-acre garden has been neglected,
Weeds tangle the underbrush, dry and brittle,
The stone paths are going bare, narrowing.
Norbulinka, the Dalai Lama’s summer residence.
Only occasional curious, well-read tourists
Come in jeeps or vans driving to the farther end
to see the palace, desecrated shrines, scummy pools,
Neglected flower gardens, mosaic-ed stables.
No maroon robed lamas tend the garden.
Fifty years ago the young Dalai Lama fled
with faithful friends through the distant gate.
Today even his photo is banned; worshipers are tortured.
I have no guide or map to the meditative paths.
A woman alone, I am more uneasy than in Central Park.
No birds, no voices, no breeze. Ahead a small building,
A shrine perhaps. Two men near the entrance
Watch me approach. I smile. One stares unsmiling.
The other smiles. “English?” “American.”
“Show you?” he gestures to the doorway.
Should I hesitate? No. “Yes.” Will I be robbed?
“Guru Rimpoche. You know?” “Yes, Padmashambava.”
His eyes meet mine. He walks into the unlit room.
He clicks on a dim flashlight, the beam sweeps the walls.
“I will show.” Dimly I see murals of Buddhasatvas.
The man tells me names, his accent is difficult.
We move to the back wall, his voice goes low.
“I am Tibeti, he guard, Han, no English.”
He nods toward the door. He talks fast,
Mostly I do not understand. He says god-names loudly.
Softly he tells me he wants to flee, but he cannot,
“I am not free. Tibet is not free,” “I know.”
“You will tell America? We want to be free.”
The shadow of the guard in the doorway.
Loudly, “Here Mahakala, riding on bull,”
Angry god killing our enemies. See skulls.”
The shadow moves away. “You will tell America?”
“Yes, I will tell.” Outside I say, “Thank you.”
Hands together, head bowed, “Namaste.”
I walk, distracted, half an hour in derelict Norbulinka.
I do not find the palace or the once splendid gardens.
My little voice has reached very few, but I tell.
Often I remember this desperate man;
Papers reported others like him who gave up hope –
This year a hundred set themselves afire.
Their simple message: Tibet is not free.
June Calender has retired from playwrighting in NYC. Her plays were seen off-off Broadway (as far off as Alaska and California). She now lives on Cape Cod where she writes fiction, poetry and creative nonfiction but devotes a great deal of time to finishing a much researched book about the diaries of Theos C. Bernard's stay in Lhasa in 1937. She has travel to Tibet twice but, of course, could not see Tibet as he saw it.