Sunday, May 5, 2013

Tuesday Poem - Sky Burial by Ali Alizadeh

Sky Burial
for John Kinsella

I really want to be fed
to vultures when I’m dead. My toddler

on the verge of using spoon
will be assigned to serve, when I’m done

his father’s cadaver, sliced and spread
to sky’s black scavengers. Why not

– my wife often asks – cremation
à la her desired dissemination

of charred fragments in the breeze
wreathing a mountain range? I answer

and confess. To a lifetime of feasting
on birds. (She’s baffled, a vegetarian

alien to guilt accumulated
in the gullet of a carnivore hooked

on the thighs, breast and wings
of the avian.) A concatenation

of culinary memories. Chicken
kebab: grilled squares stabbed

onto a bayonet-like skewer
at my uncle’s wedding just before

the War. Poultry so scarce in Tehran
the viscous taste became a hunger

for an end to Saddam’s bombing raids
and when Mum did somehow bring home

a frozen, beige clump and cooked us
khoresht baadenjan with morgh

the other three in the family gave me
– without my comprehending

the complexity of their munificence –
all the tender, fatless, skinless fillets

and I devoured. When we finally fled
the acerbic scent (‘secret herbs, spices’)

of cheap deep-fried flesh, vital
emblem of the American empire

galvanised my senses upon arrival
in Australia. Chiko Rolls at the tuck shop

(made with mutton, I later discovered,
despite the name) diverted, occasionally

from the howls – “Speak English!
Say something, camel fucker!” – and then

smoking with a surfie dope-dealer
who worked at Red Rooster between art

classes at university. I lived off
bread, baked beans and starchy noodles

but for a treat – to recover
from rejections by girls, ridicule by lecturers

who found my thoughts and paintings
pointless – I’d resort to a sodden

marked down BBQ chook
wilting below the deli counter, late

at night in a Gold Coast supermarket
biting the singed bird’s sinews

with terrible anger. Finally I left
for Melbourne to ‘make it’ as a poet

and to locate a hypothetical woman
who’d tolerate me. When I did find her

I also found (to my gastronomic
terror) she was a vegetarian. The end

of my fetish for feathered beasts? Hardly
could you call her a proselytiser

but what a traveller. Honeymoon
in Vietnam: tofu tossed with lemongrass

for her, pieces of quails and other murdered
birds decked my chopsticks. In China

I struggled to order without
embarrassment at the restaurants

since ‘chicken’ in Mandarin
distanced by one tonal accent from

‘prostitute’. And so on. Tavuk
shish kebabs in Istanbul, turkey strips

(ersatz bacon) in Dubai. Can this
addiction be assuaged by the virtues

of ethical consumerism, barnyard
fowls? My wife looks away. The truth

hurts even more because what’s wasted
on feeding me meat becomes heat

and melts the world. And I had
a pet rooster once, regal with his red crown

fierce after the targeted killing of my
sister’s speckled hen by one of Tehran’s

infamous crows. I can still hear
my rooster’s sad, lonesome howl

creep out of his quivering beak
when I enjoy murgh tikka masala (or shamefully

for an anti-capitalist, a Zinger). I cringe
past the glistening corpses of Beijing ducks

but my mouth moistens. So please
a secular sky burial for me. A machete

doing the work of maggots’ teeth
on my dead body. And proffer the chops

to the vultures to apologise for a lifetime
of eating their kind. Aquiline beaks

tearing morsels of my muscles
and then tenderised and regurgitated

for frenetic, squawking chicks.


  1. Oh, Jennifer I absolutely love this!! An amazing poem - utterly wonderful! I must read more.

  2. It's wonderfully written and for me full of pain. Is that because I'm an anti-war vegetarian? (mostly). But I can also see there is a lot of humour in it as well.