Reflections of a Canadian Monk in Burma

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)


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