Seeds of Fire1 (Ways of Looking at the Pyramids)

Canzone No. 5

Under the eye of Horus, tourists yearned
For perfect shots, as if a photograph
Could overcome an urge to gape or laugh
Confronted by eroding monuments.
Such celebration of an ego spurned
By death had blown away the slaves as chaff
With orders.  These they couldn’t fill by half,
But, pharoahs had refused all argument,
Accepting only limestone and cement.
What are the hopes of man? The fields of Yaru,
Exposed to Ra by an archeologist’s pick,
Are filled with sherds of bone, and angels sick
To stains of ashes on the dunes.  And you,
Placing ushabtis2 on your opened tomb,
Trying to escape your soul’s last duties too,
What makes you think that heaven has the room?
Yours were the feet of Ptah, your thighs of Nut3;
You walked forever; you couldn’t keep them shut.

With lion body and the head of a  man, it purred
At some remove, stripped by blowing sand
And by artillery.  Faceless and grand,
Awaiting prayer to stir stone legs still bent
By gravity, a passerby to gird
And lift the death that, like an ampersand,
Tight-bound the ruined creature to the land,
The patient Sphinx confronted accident,
His sandy eyes vacant, his energy spent.
Its casing nearly stripped, his model’s tomb
Has stood for fifty centuries to quash
These cowering caravans whose thoughts might wash
The desert’s memory of kings.  They loom,
However, in its shadow, now’s hard route
That cracks apart the past, more sure than doom,
The road behind split open by its shoot.
And so this spirit world’s become a slum,
Its watcher cracked and dusty, old and glum.

These thousand loaves are baked, that thousand jars
Of beer are brewed of stone.  What whispered chants
Could soften them for teeth and tongue?  Romance
Is lost between the mummies.  Stripping their chests
Of wrappings, we so quickly find their stars
Are out, too weighty for the feather dance
And hidden from a dragon’s bloody rants
Osiris and the forty-two addressed
To try death’s power.  But now — no further test,
And Thoth4 throws down his pen, a useless tool
For records in the dunes — too quickly sloughed,
The blackest ink a fading dust aloft,
The transcript grain by grain become a rule.
It measures eyeless years and powdered ooze;
It finds in emptiness its class in school,
And memory lingering here so often rues
These days of light we feel its urge to dull
The desert night, its coffin’s stony pull.

Why build an artificial mountain, spur
A generation’s toil when nature’s spat
Up piles of rock that make all towers seem flat,
And citadels are more like dust that’s fled
The wind?   The shadowed heroes caved in Ur
Are no less myths than these; where they once sat
Is no less plundered.  Mummies on a slat
Are just as eyeless as the scattered dead
Of any other city we have shed
As lost to sight.    The bone-filled, golden boot
That’s wrapped to blackness in a linen sash
Can leave no sandy footprint in a dash
To hope.  And sojourners who try to loot
These graves for history or wealth won’t soothe
The desert’s thirst, nor add a single shoot
Of green along the Nile.  Its surface smooth
And distant from this harbor’s long-dried mud,
Its future flows from music of the ‘Ud5

On the horizon of Khufu6, the seekers spurned
The warnings not to climb the angled cliff
Of blocks where, by its tripod peak, a puff
Of air could make their bodies incident
With headless stone.  Wanting, as yet not urned,
To find a life beyond their own, they’d luff
To desert winds behind a false Sharif,
Who’d lead them to their arid testament
Beyond the dunes.  Though blowing sand had rent
The mourning temple far below, they flew
Up treacherous, giant steps, their pace so quick
They left their angry guide.  Their passions sick
With a jackal’s dying love, they could eschew
The law, imagine that their fatal gloom
A hawk could lift, recasting them in blue,
Beyond Geb’s7 small horizon their ka‘s8 new womb.
But looking in the sky they’ll find their Mut9
Is gone, papyrus burned, her temple shut.’


1 “Timmaeus,” Dialogues, Plato: “the pyramid is the solid which is the original element and seed of fire.
2  Prayer dolls
3  Incantation from Book of the Dead
4 The “recording clerk” at the trial of the dead
5 Egyptian lute, still used by nomad musicians
6 Also Cheops
7 Egyptian Middle Kingdom, god of earth
8 Spirit of the body
9 Egyptian Middle Kingdom, mother of Earth and of all living things





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Arthur Mortensen of Brooklyn has appeared in many journals and has three collections: A Disciple After the Fact, a novel in verse (Kaba Press); Life in the Theater, sequel, and Why Hamlet Waited So Long (San Sebastian Press). Upcoming is After the Crash, currently in submission. He has been editor & publisher of Somers Rocks Press, Pivot Press, and is Webmaster of www.expansivepoetryonline.com.