Sky Burial

Issue ThreePoetry

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By Jan Price


Down the arch-groan monastery road

coursing these treeless bitten mountains

a sharp dismissive wind

snatches from the mouths of monks

chanting like accordion voices

sucking and blowing discordant hauntings

sporadically in and past my frozen ears

guiding souls onward upward

to the highest northern plateau.


Invited I follow

the families who follow the monks’

petal-fall steps;

their robes like wearable prayer flags

Muscat-firing ripe persimmon tones

in swirling grit at the dawn of silver;

on up to where earlier

body-carriers un-shouldered

the pure-wrapped foetal-posed

loads from their backs

onto charnel ground.



long-bongs my temples

as Juniper drifts and flares

snorting my vision

as blades graze the whetstone –

rasssp‘n’turn rasssp‘n’turn

like Death gasping for air

as out of the sky

a rapture of monastic-crowned angels


descend on black gargantuan wings

flap-nesting my hair.


Tying white cold-lit aprons

the monks ghost to Body Breakers

peel back the shrouds

un-foetal legs arms

turn downward the eyes

pull back the necks and scalp

the un-mutilated the un-diseased.

A ritual strike to the back

and the angels levitate drool

hyena-excite as if at a kill;

a warning stick rises   hits the air

and the hook-beaked retreat.


At the glimpse of the first heart

lifting from the first body

garnished with liver kidneys intestines –

that misshaped lump of flesh

that once fluttered for a mother’s milk;

jellied by a father’s smile;

pounded for love’s raw kiss;

steadied a flag for country –

is cut to strips.


I dry-wreath weeping;

realize why I shy from writing

love poems with un-bloody ink.


On their knees

cutting flesh into chunks

stoning bones into powder

to mortar with barley flour

tea and yak-butter

the Bone Breakers

huff and puff like old axemen

bringing down a forest

in the name of ritual

for lack of deep earth to bury;

for lack of wood to bone-fire.


The monks stand


step back from offerings –

as if a physical signal

the angels rush in

flapping elbows

under through over

a wake of bobbing bald heads

already tearing hissing

gulping gorging

on three-day-dead flesh.


The families have gone –

when did they leave?


The wind drops;

the angels slow-flap flap

soul-pregnant from the earth

wings dip-dipping in morning

spreading night to grey

into the Winds of Heaven

releasing souls to await



A lone Body Breaker

spoons bone-meal

on stained ground

for commoner classes

of hawk and crow;

spreads a cloth

to gather thigh-bones

for trumpets and skull-caps

for carvings; rolls and straps them

shoulder to hip

passes me eyes down

back to the Monastery…


I am

alone with the stain.


Image by Farid Askerov