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“Authorities in Penang face a delicate situation as at least 17 bodies of Covid-19 victims have not been claimed and are languishing in Penang Hospital’s mortuary.”
—news article in
The Vibes, 20 Oct 2021.

Would the rightful owners of these 17 bodies
please turn up to claim them?

For verification purposes, state your name—
the one that’s missing from the papers,
the one stitched to your soul.
So that we know which one’s yours,
describe your body as it was when you lost it:
how many years in the face,
hair length, birthmarks. Skip the lungs—
they’re all the same.

You’ve forgotten? You’ve left your memories
back in the skull? That’s a shame.
You could’ve told us what it was
you never could say in life.
It’s too late now. They were wiped clean
the instant you exited—standard procedure
for privacy reasons.

Go on then, just pick any one.
There are as many vessels
as there are lost souls, anyway.
When you’re done, tell us which rituals are required
for you to get the salvation you need.
They say that funerals are held for the living
but we’ll work with what we have.
We’ll hold the ceremonies together
so each of you can have an audience
of 16 empty seats. After all, you
may have known each other
once, when you were still someone.

The next question is how you wish
to dispose of your body. Cremation
is most cost-effective, but you’d have to wait
your turn. 4 hours between each body—
our incinerators are old. Perhaps the ashes
can be stored in a hole in a wall
until the economy improves?
We won’t cast you out to sea
unless that’s what you want.
The waters won’t be sentimental, unlike
those who might yet show up for you.

Finally, for documentation:
a police report. Date of death
with accompanying photo.
Next of kin? Write: None
that we know of.

Yee Heng Yeh is a Malaysian writer and Mandarin-to-English translator. His poetry has been featured in The KITA! Podcast, adda, Strange Horizons, and a few local anthologies, and was shortlisted in the Malaysian Poetry Writing Competition 2021. His translations of poetry are forthcoming in Mantis. You can find him on Twitter @HengYeh42.
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