Cremation at Pushupatinath

The sacred river is reduced to a trickle;
its banks are littered with plastic bags.
Behind the temple wall, drone of chanting.

Wrapped in a saffron shroud, a body lies
on a pyre; the oldest son, dressed in white,
carries a bowl of fire three times around it,

places an ember into his father’s mouth.
The attending harijan dips handfuls of hay
into the river, lays them on the body.

Flames rise.  Blue smoke billows.
One man standing behind the pyre
crosses his arms over his chest,

another shifts his weight, lights a cigarette.
When the fire is blazing, the son
breaks the skull with a bamboo stick

and the elements borrowed for this life
are restored to air, water, earth, fire, sky.
On the opposite bank, a wandering cow

creates a small disturbance, a boy kicks
a plastic bottle into the river while another
piles charcoal onto a two-wheeled cart.

About the author

Bonnie Bishop has lived in Italy and Greece and hitchhiked from Athens to Copenhagen. She has crossed Canada by train, marvelled at the terra…

Read the full bio

Issue 18 · June 2013

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