Let Them Look for Tibetan Songs

Pema Yangchen

(Translated from the Chinese by Patricia Schiaffini-Vedani)


They nodded one after another

They never ate mutton, but they did that day

They never drank milk tea, but that day they did

They could not tolerate alcohol and yet carefully

Picked up three bowls of wine

And poured them down into their bellies


Those were three bowls of barley wine

With barley planted by my parents

Harvested by my sister

Washed by my grandmother in the river

Stored in a tall wooden barrel

And brewed into a clear barley wine


But we concealed the last wonder from them

We did not tell them that we sing Tibetan songs

When we serve wine to honor our guests

If the songs begin, you cannot cease drinking


Eyes wide open, they eagerly asked to hear Tibetan songs

Like hungry children staring at their mother’s breast

But Tibetan songs are hidden in the heart of the brewing woman

And grandma is on her brick bed now, a hundred miles away


Singing Tibetan songs

While brewing a new barrel of barley wine


They nodded politely

And left with regret


When asked, “Why not satisfy the wish of those from afar?”

You replied, “Let them continue looking for Tibetan songs.”


(The original Chinese poem was published in the Chinese language journal, Grasslands (草地) in 2018, volume 2.)


Pema Yangchen (Tib. པད་མ་དབྱངས་ཅན།), born in 1962 in Gansu province, began her literary career in 1982 and has published a large number of poems and prose in prestigious magazines such as Poetry Magazine, Ethnic Minorities’ Literature, and Star Poetry Magazine, and featured in numerous literary anthologies of female Chinese poetry. Her books include her poetry books Sun Shadow, Stars, and Selected Poems of Pema Yangchen besides a collection of essays Touching the Purple GrassShe has been awarded the “Bronze Speeding Horse,” a Chinese literary award for ethnic minority writers from Gansu province.

Patricia Schiaffini-Vedani (Ph.D. 2002) teaches the Chinese language at Texas State University. She has authored many academic papers and two books, Modern Tibetan Literature and Social Change and Enticement: Stories of Tibet. Her research deals with Sinophone Tibetan literature. She is the founder of the Tibetan Arts and Literature Initiative.