Donald Raymond: Carter in the Valley of the Kings

“wonderful things…”

alone among these houses
empty as summer schoolrooms;
as any fast-abandoned place,
this one by chance or luck
left overlooked for us, cramped
dark, and narrow, filled to overflow
with alabaster oil jars, centuries
dry, tipped sideways and discarded
among overturned furniture;
chisel-marks on unfinished stone:
as if they had forgotten something
small, and easily misplaced
as if they were called, suddenly, away –

on the walls, a series
of unworked-out problems:
should pharaoh smite:
ten thousand Nubians
ten thousand Libyans
ten thousand of the hated Asiatic
how many hath pharaoh smote?

Answer: three tens of lotus blossoms
or three fingers beckoning toward
a register of redressed wrongs
but that might also mean:
one-in-twenty-eighth part
a cubit, if it means anything at all –

these same scenes, like a skipping record –

a scratched CD? low-bandwidth stream?

– repeat across each tomb, as if
all of history had happened
in that one room – and we might, almost,
believe it – how centuries compress
how everyone dies at the end of this
prolonged, inevitable journey
from stone to art to stone again,
even our own bodies merely
exquisite persistence of memory.

More than this, we will never have –
an epitaph, an article on wikipedia –
a stone slab, mirror grey, on a register
of these rows repeated among a sea
of spongy green as if grass
could be an answer to death- transience
marking transience; and still
the robbers come, to bear away our names.

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