A Spade Is for Piercing the Ground and a Shovel Is for Heaving
Preparations begin now, in the middle of my life—
death was born with me, didn’t expect to change languages,
might not know when it is called. Sometimes English sits on the surface of the skin.
We are water, we are rivers of descent;
gravity is inevitable yet grievable.
Mourn as you like, death is another migration.
Bring the body home and gently lay it down on its back,
bind tightly the hands and feet of the corpse,
do this to keep it from running away like a lonely child-
carry the coat it wore (when it was a person) to the roof-
a flag of surrender, a signal flag to the spirit world, new arrival;
call out the name of the dead three times.
Perfume the bath water-the death of a thousand flowers-
comb the hair and catch what falls,
what was grown from the body must accompany the body.
Manicure the fingernails and toenails,
carefully reserve the nail trimmings,
the hair and nails are to be collected into five pouches for the coffin.
Obtain a spoon made from a willow tree, it is a lightweight hardwood,
not heavy in the mouth-
feed the corpse three spoonfuls of uncooked rice: one thousand, two thousand, three thousand bushels.
Slide metal coins into the mouth-the spirit journey can be costly, the way long-
cloak the body in the death dress of hemp or silk,
envelop the body with a quilted cloth, and bind the body with ropes seven times.
Transport the body on a decorated bier out of the house-for this you need the living-
observe it float heavily toward the gate. Not unlike a boat
the bier is decorated with fierce dragons and phoenixes; colorful dolls guard the dead.
On the way out of the household premises, lower the bier three times-
the dead’s final departure from home is marked with this ritual bowing.
At the grave, the shaman will exorcise evil spirits from the site. Pay the shaman.
Submerge the coffin in the open ground, it has already been emptied, given its duty,
yes, like another mouth, or a box for a smaller box-one by one,
the ground is a wound that heals, that embraces its lost materials.
Sun Yung Shin