“The Crossing”

Click here to listen to Jonathan Fink read this poem.

—The T’Boli, a Mindanao tribe, believe the soul leaves the body in sleep, then returns to wake it; death occurs when the soul leaves permanently.

The bodies hang like chimes within the boughs.
Perhaps the height is welcome to the dead

that wake alone inside the bamboo slats.
They undulate a moment in the air,

then weave between the limbs to reach the sea.
The living are asleep in huts below.

Their souls have climbed from dreams and line the shore.
The moonlight seems to fill their robes and hair,

the water moving through their feet, each step
without a trace upon the sand. The dead

expand above as if they were a fleet
of silk.  From shore, the souls that watch the flight

must mark the crossing they, one day, will make.
To enter back into their forms, they wade

into the body’s sleep, descending thigh
to chest: the match of throat, then mouth, then breath.