Hitodama (人魂 or ‘Human Soul’)
Fetch candle. Death fire. Falling star.
Ignis fatuus. Will o’ the wisp. Wraith.
Sea spirit. Doppelganger.
Friar’s lantern. Soft phosphorescence on the water.
When a soul fails to cross the thin gap
into death, one foot stuck fast in the body
of a man, this blue-white ball of flame
trails over the spit swamp like a trick,
its tail a silhouette of the dead’s face.
Do not stare out onto the wet darkness.
Bottle your eyes, blow out the candle.
Forget your instincts, follow your map.
For to see the hitodama is an omen:
you will lose your soul forever in the fen.
by Aiko Harman
First printed in Edinburgh Review 129: Japan.