Instructions for a Tibetan Air Burial

by Felix Jung
The vultures, about 50 of them altogether, ambled slowly up the hill and took to the air with evident difficulty, overfed as they are from this daily ritual.
—New York Times, 7.3.99

What you see in front of you
is only a body. Take your knife
and begin with the feet, the toes.
Oranges never cry when you peel
their skin, the apples feel no pain
when you remove their flesh. This
is not a violence, but a returning.

Open the body like a book, but do not
succumb to the smell. Overcome it
as the mourners must overcome
their grief. Yours is not the heaviest
burden today. Should your nose
begin to weep, breathe through
your mouth. At every moment
remember you are breathing.

Lift the ribs, the part that many
call a cage (as though the body
itself were not a cage). Remove
each lung and open it to air.
Take down the walls of each
intestine, brick by brick. Let
the stomach feed something other
than itself. Be careful with
the heart, its size and weight
can make it difficult to hold.

Ignore the people who are watching.
Think of the dead who have come
before you, for they are watching.
Keep your eyes upon the eyes
below you, notice how your living,
pulsing hand reaches to hold
the dead and empty hand even as
your knife begins the severing.

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