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October 2014, vol 10 no 3

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Sonam Chhoki

Hoarded in Memory

At first light, a concourse of ravens rides the red-tinged clouds into the valley. It is spring and I sense their restlessness. Soon they will return to the higher altitudes for the summer. I no longer collect their feathers as talismans of portentous journeys but still find myself scanning the grass for their black plumes. I remember stories of the raven's sacred power that father used to tell me. When I woke up from nightmares of trying to flee angry ravens, he soothed me with these words: 'It is the same as the terrifying gods in the Tsechu mask dance. The ravens are our own masks, our thoughts, angry or happy.'

The dawn sun sculpts the fresh snow on the peaks. The air is filled with the cries of ploughmen in the valley as they work in the first glow of day. My eyes trace the lichen-darkened bamboo poles in the courtyard of the ancestral house. The mantras have faded on father's prayer flags that now hang in forlorn fragments. Beyond, is the shadowed cavern of the persimmon grove, into which the ravens descend and wait.

It is the third anniversary of father's death. The monks from the local monastery will soon arrive for the annual rite. It is as if the ravens know there will be offerings.

mountain pass –
a golden eagle's shadow
follows the pilgrims