U Vamsa, Canadian monk, was in Burma at the time of the recent protests, and recorded his reflections on the situation in the poem below:
Then Came the Night
A crowd, a glorious crowd, came in peace
Led by the ones in maroon and golden robes
Hope was alive; Freedom’s sweet taste was nearer than ever
The heavy sweaty air, scented with frangipani, pressed and blew the people and the palm leaves,
And the whole world watched in a breathless secret silence
Now was the time for movement and space
The stern to become free and pliant
To breathe again the nourishment, to stretch and grow,
To break from the smothering web of fear
Oh watching world, Are you here with us now?
Then the soldiers came, countrymen in green
Well-fed, strong, made cruel and proud, steeled to pain
Fashioned by an outside worldly power guarded in its own sheath of terror
They stood watching, sizing, seizing; seething
Oh watching world, you say how restrained and cool they are!
As one, the crowd jeered and pleaded and wept
You green headed pigs; Who fights us, your brothers and sisters?
But the soldiers were orphans; unloved, twisted and deaf to the pleas
Fed and clothed and loyal only to their comrades in arms
And the world saw the shields and AK’s and hardened bamboo clubs
Then in a flash, like a spring trap snapping
AK’s sprayed their lethal spit, acrid tear gas plumed
Cries of pain and surprise from those stung and hurt
Running and running; blood made the sandals slippery
They fluttered off like broken tires; the world saw them scattered, red, piled in dirt.
Then beating and chasing and running; crowd splayed apart.
Hard bamboo clubs smashing into bodies and bones
Heads pop-popping and gurgling like watermelons thudding onto a road of red
Orphans beating brother, sister, thami, Ulay, Daw Daw*
And the world watched and hoped that only eleven were dead
Then came the bleak and heavy night, and hooded brothers
Slid like snakes into the holiest of holy places
And smashed and robbed and tore dark red robes from the backs of monks
Then crushed heads and bodies against a red brick wailing wall
A watching world sighed and went back to sleep
Statesmen belched the useless vomit of outrage and indignity
Then clumsy and mute, in secret relief, agreed to nothing
And the blood dried on Sule Pagoda Road
The gleaming Shwedagon wept its gold leaf tears to the wind
And the Golden Land of Burma was golden no more.
Oh watching world, when your black-hooded ones
With shields and spray and armored with guns
Stop you from crossing this line or that slew
Or crush your homes and snatch your children from your neck
Who, oh who, will be watching out for you?
U Vamsarakkhita (aka Sean Pritchard) copyrighted
*(daughter, uncle, auntie)