Instructions for a Sky Burial

Songs of a Hungry Heart from the Country of Not-knowing

Image of Tom Kozlowski, singer in the spirit of John SteinbeckIf you ask me what friendship is, I’ll look to Tom Kozlowski. I’ve known Tom since 1966. One characteristic we share is what Bruce Springsteen refers to as a “hungry heart,” which, to me, is a mind that asks fundamental questions and revises the answer based on ever-evolving experience. Take “Instructions for a Sky Burial,” a song about journeying that we wrote as a result of reading about a practice the Tibetans use to send the souls of their dead to some Next Place. The song starts off: “Take a cup of loss / Add a body breaker / Flashing shiny knives / under Tibetan skies.” Tom and I were born in Dayton, Ohio in 1954. Both of us loved books and music at an early age, and our friendship became collaboration. In the songs we write together, we share a territory whose frontiers are states of ecstasy and imagination. (I call it The Country of Not-knowing.) Performed by Tom in his signature style, this song is from an unfinished CD called In the Pocket. I hope you enjoy it.

Photo of Tom Kozlowski by Deni Naffziger.

Copyright © 2014 by Tom Kozlowski and Roy Bentley. All rights reserved.


Roy Bentley About Roy Bentley

Roy Bentley is the author of Boy in a Boat (University of Alabama Press), Any One Man (Bottom Dog Books), The Trouble with a Short Horse in Montana (White Pine Press), and Starlight Taxi (Lynx House Press). A new book, Walking with Eve in the Loved City, has been selected by Billy Collins as a finalist for the 2018 Miller Williams Poetry Prize and will be publlshed in the spring of 2018 by the University of Arkansas Press. Work from that collection has appeared in Shenandoah, Pleiades, Rattle, Blackbird, The Southern Review, and elsewhere.


  1. Wonderful post, Will and Roy!

  2. Eric M. Martin says:

    1. Very nice song. I don’t think I’ve ever heard “transubstantiation” worked into a song, but it really works here – very naturally.

    2. “Redemption may just be the art of evolution.” I think this is my favorite line of the song. Maybe because it encapsulates the twin idea at the heart of the song: Death is a “going over” and life, if lived well, is a “giving over.” Rituals surrounding death have a meaning for the departed AND for the living – those performing the ritual.

    My knowledge of Tibetan religious practices is very limited, but I understand the notion of death as “going over” to be central to Eastern Shamanism. (The Shaman always passes into the sky and crosses over something, like a rainbow, to reach the land of the dead…)

    The idea of a sky burial makes a lot of sense in this context. The soul passes up and over to reach the land of the dead.

    But the song is not only about dying. It’s about living with an understanding of end-points, of limits. Or, that is what I take away from the song. There are limits to how much we can do in one life and, perhaps, to how much control we have over that life.

    So, “let it be enough” as a repeated refrain at the end of song would seem to suggest that the Sky Burial is not only a ceremonial farewell to a soul but a statement about accepting life as a finite thing with an emphasis on the importance of acceptance as an act, as a spiritual choice, or even as a spiritual wisdom.

    Thinking about saying goodbye to someone by raising your eyes to the heavens certainly makes for a powerful aesthetic connection and one that seems to suggest the simple prudence of “giving over” and recognizing that, like the sky, death (as an aspect of the life-cycle) is a power far greater than anything an individual can contend with.

    Maybe in this way the Sky Burial becomes a practice in realizing our place on the metaphysical scale from Grand/Eternal to Finite.

    Thank you for the thought provoking song!

  3. Roy Bentley says:

    Thank you, Eric. Much appreciate seeing this.

Speak Your Mind