A SCRIBE OF THE BOOKS OF THE DEAD
1 The calluses from holding his sharp pen
stopped hurting him when he was nearly six.
He lost count of the symbols, had his tricks
to memorize them. His hands hurt again
when he was taught to draw and paint the gods
now he was worthy. One day he was whipped
he drew a face three-quarters on, full-lipped-
that time with flails, the second time with rods
and never broke their rules again. Instead
he dreamed the faces that he’d like to draw
and private symbols to express much more
than his stern masters knew was in his head
and by the time that he was twenty-one
had thought so much, he’d only just begun.
2.This much he knew – the sound, the word, the thing,
The shape you draw, the thing the shape shows; all
are cousins not the same, and yet you call
them all the same. A simple copper ring
both is and is not the great ring of gold
on Pharoah’s finger. What they signify
is linked as his links Pharoah to the sky,
the Nile the land; yours to the wife you hold.
And thus he came to know that nothing’s real
as we conceive it, when we die we go
into some mystery we cannot know
until we step through death and start to feel
new air the things we know are symbols of.
He drew his scrolls with passionate new love.
3. He never talked about the things he thought,
distrusted words to hold them straight and true
nor painted them. A certain shade of blue
perhaps, it seemed to him, had almost caught
the thing he meant. He hoped it would convey
that thing to those who saw it; could not buy
or mix that pigment twice, and so let die
his hope. Aware that should his words betray
those thoughts, he’d die for heresy, but worse
the things the gods are symbols of would know
that he had failed them. It was best to go
quite silent through the world. There is a curse
that falls on thinkers who both fail in tact
and preach as truth that which is inexact.
4. And then he died, and found his death banal
exactly as he’d painted it for years.
He walked from mound to mound, and shed no tears
of fright as he fought snakes and lions, all
the creatures he had thought of as the mask
over some greater truth. His heart was weighed.
Anubis thanked him for his work. He prayed
for some enlightenment, but found no task
of learning strange new wisdom come to hand.
Gods talked to him, but told him nothing new
and, when he asked, said he had naught to do
for ever but be happy, kind and bland.
He spent eternity in discontent
Wondering what this was meant to represent.