For centuries, an order of Japanese monks
chose one of the elders to deliver prayers
to the island of an important Bodhisattva. They set
the elect adrift in a shrine shaped like a coffin
with a month of salted fish, rice crackers & water
while brothers on shore kept watch for signs of panic.
In many cases, the sacrifice tried to row home
but the others turned him, shoved him back
into the sea. A mirror of human existence:
each of us sent to beg forgiveness from whichever
gods we recognize while death patiently paces
the sky. As darkness swallows the world, imagine
the cry of gulls, glimpses of a distant horizon,
the slow groan of the casket atop the waves.
Copyright © 2023 by SM Stubbs. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 13, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.