The Long Song
The Long Song of the Khalkhas mirrors the steppe’s untiring winds,
fingers darting over holes in the limbe’s wood,
breath flowing in unbroken melody.
Round like the woolen ger of home, circular breathing is felt—
in through the nose and out from the cheeks,
whirling in synchronous migration.
With practice, a continuous note
twins the hour as a birth renews the nomadic herd.
From the winter’s darkness, a child draws
out the music, blows gently on a candle,
never so strong as to extinguish the flame
yet slowly, steadily keeping it dancing.
The wind’s constancy numbers even the days of the mountains.
Only Khüiten Peak, the cold one, remains three miles high,
with eighteen others eroded to two.
At last count, fourteen limbe players remain.
Backs to the wall of blankets draping the khana lattice,
the musicians sit cross-legged around the fire,
the strings of the morin khuur bowed in rhythmic support.
The limbe’s unbroken notes circle and twirl
like a finger of smoke dancing
through the hole in the crown and into the frozen night.
It must be magic to rise forever,
never needing to stop and breathe at line’s end,
to create, even once in a life, a luminous song
traversing the night like a satellite.