Book of the Dead
Game pieces on a board taught her the rules,
that she would really have to learn to read
and memorise the symbols that would lead
her to the Western Lands. All sorts of fools
might put their trust in someone else’s spells,
bought with their names filled in, not understood
and they would end up drowning in their blood
or burned with fire. The Lord Anubis tells
those who are good from those who try to trick
the scales. There’s one sits near him who devours
and as he bites the seconds seem like hours
of torture, fever, headache, being sick.
She prayed, and wrote, and drew to find the art
to make Death’s feather balance with her heart.
She planned it all, had the best spices bought
and laid aside; on linen wrote down prayers
to wrap her in. She set all her affairs
in order, had her serving girls all taught
which priest to bring to open up her eyes
and mouth with virgin tools, which priest to cut
her organs neatly out, and gently put
them in gold jars, each of a different size,
heart, liver and the pieces of her brain.
The drying, and the bandages, and mask
of gold and lapis. Each maid had a task
and started on it when she felt the pain
of dying and snapped orders. Her last breath
words of control, of their lives and her death.
She lay dead in her tomb. After a while
she thought to rise, and leave her corpse behind,
dried, cold, perfected. She had hoped to find
little clay servants round her. She said ‘I’ll
go seek them out’ then realized they were dust
around her coffin, but did not despair,
walked through the tomb wall into crisp cold air
under no sky. She felt both fear and trust
fear of the lands she’d walk, desert and marsh,
where crocodiles and lions lay in wait.
Her prayers and spells would turn away their hate,
Lead to Anubis’ court, both fair and harsh.
She trusted that his judgement of her deeds
would bless her, lead her to the Land of Reeds.
I went to the preview of the new exhibition at the British Museum today…