My father took me picnicking in Hell
in Tiger Balm Gardens when I turned five.
Horse-Face and Ox-Head flanked the door to quell
tourists, returning ghosts, recaptured live.
Small spectator of retribution’s drama,
I shuffled through the dark; I’d rather dive
in and out but the crowd before King Yama
passed as if shackled by the chains of crime.
Father explained to me the law of Karma
while a mirror screened a whole lifetime
in a flash. Jostled into Court One, I balked
at heads and arms and legs, in bloody mime,
stuck out from under giant slabs of rock,
impossible to tell which limb belonged
to which gory head on the granite block
(Father said, unfilial boys, they wronged
their parents who gave them everything);
into Court Two where sinners had their tongues
pierced by long knives for lifelong gossiping;
in Three, the greedy were handcuffed and whipped;
the tax evaders, in Court Four, drowning;
one body blurred into another, stripped
of eyes or bowel, heart torn out with a hook,
and on a hill of swords a traitor was flipped.
It wasn’t me. It wouldn’t be. I shook
as if my bones, and not that man’s, were scraped
by sharpeners, for writing a dirty book,
my butt, and not his, by a spear-tip raped.
Expecting the worst horror in Court Ten,
I imagined punishments nightmare-shaped.
A blue wheel, painted on the back of the den,
displayed the paths for the purged souls’ rebirth
as insects, fish, birds, animals or men
depending on each individual’s worth.
The worst are born as hungry ghosts, Father said
and strode ahead of me out from the earth.
Under a raintree’s shade, he laid out bread,
ham, apple juice. I still didn’t feel well.
Eat. Don’t waste food, Father said. We fed.