Sky Burial
by Kevin Conder

Orange-robed priests watch as the day's dead
are gently placed on the burial stone under
that impossibly open gaze of a Tibetan sky.

Dark men appear from crevices in the mountains
carrying implements that look like medieval leftovers
if Tibet ever had a medieval age.

They lop off the heads first,
roll them into a little pile,
followed by the arms and legs.
The first huge ribbon of flesh is striped off
and flipped matter-of-factly into the clearing.
Vultures swoop down from the heights and waddle in
like waist-high ducks being fed scraps of bread in Central Park.

Skulls and pelvises are pulverized with
a large mallet and mixed with butter and barley
so that every last shard will be eaten and they are.

When the vultures' bellies are full of the village dead,
they spread their wings like great hands and
are carried upward by the shifting patterns of air and ether.

The instant the huge birds are above the mountain peaks
the souls of the dead are set free. They rise like heat
into the jet stream that runs on top of the world.

Water droplets collect on them as they ride
until they are too heavy to float and fall as snow on the mountains
just behind where I live.

The river water I drink is thick with them.

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