- Sokushinbutsu is the ritual practice
of Buddhist monks observing asceticism
to the point of death and entering
mummification while alive.
Over a thousand years ago, the monks
Liuquan and Kukai prepared for life
after death by eating only nuts, seeds,
and berries and drinking a poisonous tea
to make the body repulsive to maggots.
Then they folded themselves into the pose
of deep meditation. The bellows of the lungs
slowed, the flesh gradually lost moisture
and elasticity, and they were sealed
in a stone tomb for a thousand days.
If the body shriveled but kept intact,
that meant divinity had come to mold
the mortal form into a specimen of itself;
and it could sleep inside the statue of
the Buddha, there to be venerated as
a kind of ghost inside eternity's fragile
shell. If this is so, then what ghosts
reside in all the statuary we've created
from the beginning of time? When moon-
light passes through them will we see
their scroll of bones, their tree-like
veins? The general on his horse, the child
drinking from a fountain; the girl
in a simple dress, tilting her head
and holding a bird feeder in each hand.
Poet Luisa A. Igloria (Poetry Foundation web page, author webpage ) is Co-Winner of the 2019 Crab Orchard Open Competition in Poetry for her manuscript Maps for Migrants and Ghosts, forthcoming from Southern Illinois University Press in fall 2020. She is the winner of the 2015 Resurgence Prize (UK), the world’s first major award for ecopoetry, selected by former UK poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion, Alice Oswald, and Jo Shapcott. She is the author of What is Left of Wings, I Ask (2018 Center for the Book Arts Letterpress Chapbook Prize, selected by former US Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey); Bright as Mirrors Left in the Grass (Kudzu House Press eChapbook selection for Spring 2015), Ode to the Heart Smaller than a Pencil Eraser (Utah State University Press, 2014 May Swenson Prize), Night Willow (Phoenicia Publishing, 2014), The Saints of Streets (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2013), Juan Luna’s Revolver (2009 Ernest Sandeen Prize, University of Notre Dame Press), and nine other books. She is a member of the core faculty of the MFA Creative Writing Program at Old Dominion University which she directed from 2009-2015. In 2018, she was the inaugural Glasgow Distinguished Writer in Residence at Washington and Lee University. When she isn’t writing, reading, or teaching, she cooks with her family, knits, hand-binds books, and listens to tango music.