Butter lamp, incense stick, bees wax votive,
the occasion of poem, rites I enact

to set the world aglow with the light
of desire, the fire of the mind 
adorned in the colors of the eight temples,
the caretakers of the wang yeh (gods)

march through the streets of the seaside town
the lone envoy bearing a square yoke, parades

the wooden boat through narrow lanes
until nightfall, when the barge is brought

to rest upon a bed of joss (paper)
earlier that night, men load the boat

with hand-written wishes, the misfortunes
and plague of my past year to be piloted

up to the heavens in a blast of fireworks
deafening the crowd that came to bear witness

to ceremony; we observe as each of us does
some of us bail out before a thing is done

to escape our ghosts; we watch it burn;
I can’t unsnarl the knot of unmet needs,

so I sever it in heat, draw the cord into flame
to free myself from the clutch of haunting, to disembark

at the latitude of where I give up the ship 

Copyright © 2021 by Shin Yu Pai. This poem originally appeared in Virga (Empty Bowl, 2021). Used with permission of the author.