Life and Death in Bali by
(87 Stories)

Prompted By The Great Beyond

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/ Stories

It is an auspicious day for a cremation
There will be no tears today
Tears would drag your spirit back to earth

Your pallbearers wear earrings and black shirts
Sporting logos of Harley-Davidson, Heavy Metal;
On your wreath, a banner
Advertises the Sheraton Nusa Dua

The cremation tower, sunny white and yellow,
bali-cremation-3Adorned with your photo, bespectacled, wise,
Makes three revolutions around the crossroads
So your spirit will not find its way home

The villagers bear you to the cemetery
Tourists follow, taking snapshots
Vendors sell cold drinks

The tower flames quickly, but
The formaldehyde that preserved your body resists
They turn up the propane

Wide-eyed, a small boy approaches the pyre
You witnessed many cremations in your ninety years
But perhaps it is his first


Profile photo of John Zussman John Zussman
John Unger Zussman is a creative and corporate storyteller and a co-founder of Retrospect.

Tags: Bali, cremation
Characterizations: moving


  1. rosie says:

    Must have been an amazing experience. The brevity left me wanting to understand more about the customs of Bali.

    • John Zussman says:

      Thanks, Rosie. Our guide was able to get us invited to this cremation, for which we purchased and wore “formal” sarongs. Apparently this is quite common and welcome. As the poem suggests, we were struck by the way the old customs were combined with modern and even commercial touches.

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    Poetic and cryptic. Were you the small boy or someone you know? Is this fact of fiction? You leave us wanting to know more.

  3. Loved the impressions left by your mysterious narrator’s POV, John. So much to think about as the images interact with the narrative: spirits deliberately confused? Of course, who wants the family hanging around? The strangely mature pose the child takes, watching death swirling into the sky. Thanks!

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