Thursday, September 22, 2011

Egyptian Exhibit, Metropolitan
 Museum of Art, 1999

1. The living
The women in slender jeans,
men with cellulars hanging from belts,
seek mystery in distant objects from life
alien as Mars, as close as sweetness on the finger.
Drawn in to sensuality by delight of form and stone
and incomprehensible paint. I think they see
what they want to see.
Their thoughts as two-dimensional as the glyphs they cannot read.
Entranced by the freedom to see their lives somehow different
and shaped by time. Vaguely stunned
by how much work time destroys.
Perhaps reflecting that sense of deadness
they fight in their jobs and lives.
Dreaming themselves into an age,
they are torn by desire's thrust and joy's release into the wet
urn of night, taking in
the fullness of the dream, thinking it oneness.
The inevitable loss
and separation from it. And still
going on. Seeking shelter, warmth,
the stability of things to pull strength from loss,
to die with a sweet taste in the mouth, not bitterness.
And that lasting image that a family album will not
capture nor video record.

2. The dead
Heads and bodies awe-filled, agog, worshipping things as they are.
Prayerful in one desire: to people worlds
with juice that engorges, for blood and sperm brought to bud and bloom,
for the herb that raises from death to life.
Cities of death
built to operate in a world beyond shadow.
Monumental design, and dream beyond change or decay.
Ultimate and irrevocable longing, with each command obeyed and
each demand fulfilled to satiety. (My horror is imagining
someone's desire shaping a world so absolutely.
Without remorse or regret,
without being broken by death.)

Beauty born along the banks of famine and extinction.
Soul and sensuous arch of the human shape. Lovely upward turn
and quivering muscle in a smile. Broadness and outline
of shoulder blades
evince the craftsman's care and subtlety.
Captures our eye's delight,
while the craft cheats the careless observer
with a simplicity that evokes unconditional response,
the surrender to form and its emptiness.
Leg pushed forward and disengaged from stone.
Hand raised in strength.
Glance measuring millennia.
Gestures austere and true as trust.
That block of gneiss or alabaster from which they emerge.
Transition from muteness to speech
or nothingness to being? Or rather
a mute testament
to the invisible membrane separating us from
our desire for immortality?

This beauty is hard and firm as stone and the mystery
of wheat fields and mountain deserts where life will not end.
And I think of spending a lifetime
immersed in the holiness and trembling duty of my work
chiseling stone to ensure that a man who is not a man,
a god, will thrive in the next world.

Nile waters boiled with crocodiles, dead bodies, panic,
and the year's harvest
when the tables were dense with food. Goddesses
with liquid hands filled the elegant dish.
Phallus and vagina,
breast with life-giving milk,
empire of the hunter,
the handsome,
the fruitful pharaoh,
he whose word
moored the sky and brought order
to chaos. Brother creator.

He was the taste of food to the starved
tongue. He took away gnawing hunger and fear of bony bodies
in the wilderness. He broke
the lion's jaw and ran down the antelope.
There is terror in what we do not see. Elusive
beneath the victor's beauty
and pride. His visceral disgust
for the conquered who eat dust and grovel before the knife
unleashes their blood and soul into the bowls. Broken
arms and hands roped behind.
Their forms on each side
of the funeral gate attest
to his cruelty and merciless spirit.
As do faces staring from the base of stone door
jambs on which the empire hinged.

Words in limestone concretize the dream and quell
nightmares. Murder demons
and disease. They compose the magic body and lead it
through the maze of that parallel world to time.
Word as sustenance. Food to soul
like water to wheat,
fodder to cattle.
Cataloger of balms, linen,
and eyeliner, they testify
to the offeror's sincerity.
Even pharaoh wants to scratch
an open papyrus scroll in his lap.
His eyes open to the unseen. Gateway
to that world of
embalming thought.

(c) copyright 2011 Charles David Miller. All rights reserved.


  1. Very much enjoyed reading these ruminations on a subject that's deeper than just history. There's something compulsively fascinating about ancient Egypt--and you touch on many of the reasons why here. A lot of excellent use of language throughout, and your imagery is just on fire in the stanzas about the pharoah, leading up to your very fine concluding lines. Have you read Atwood's poem (Sekhmet)about this?--it's quite good and you might enjoy it, though you've taken a different and more layered tack.

  2. wow charles, i feel i learned much in your exhibition not only with history but much more...i could not help myself though as you kept me rapt through out...

  3. oh it.. you had me from the first line...the everyday scene..the observing visitor, searching for something..seeing two-dimensional and then you took us deep into egypt.. very fine write charles..loved it

  4. I am the armchair archaeologist, sitting here reading your poetic and often realistic description of Ancient Egypt on levels much deeper than the visitors to the museum wing, the ones in jeans who see in two dimensions, what they want to see. A fine write with imagry and thoughts that sharply pique the mind and imagination. Thanks, Chazzy!

  5. I feel like I got lost within another world -so detailed in desription/imagery. In the first part, I really liked this line - they are torn by desire's thrust and joy's release into the wet
    urn of night, taking in
    the fullness of the dream, thinking it oneness.

  6. I like how you structured this poem that is replete with images and mythological references as is fitting to an Egyptian exhibit. We had one (perhaps the same one)at our museum earlier this year. Quite impressive.

  7. What an exquisite, beautifully crafted and powerful poem, Chazinator! xxxj

  8. A fascinating poem Chaz and one that will benefit from several re-readings ... there's so much in it and 'Beauty born along the banks of famine and extinction.' is an amazing line. Fine piece.

  9. Ah, an oldie but goodie. This poem is really fine work. Although some may consider my thoughts hyperbole, I think the poem is comparable to many of the great works over the last century.

  10. Totally engaged.....I think the thing I love about your work is the way you just reel me painted a picture here of mystery, of death, but also of life in all it's Egyptian wonder and enigma.....But- the KEY thing- is that it talks so strongly about life , and beauty in life, and in particular those moments of beauty born out of hardship- which makes this piece completely universal and impressive (as always!)

  11. Love the way you draw us into the exhibit, finely observing both the exhibits and the observers. And finally examining ourselves in the same light.

  12. What a fantastic juxtaposition here. Incredibly imagery! Well-penned.

  13. Wow, what an incredible journey you have just taken me on, and yes, the juxtaposition between living but being dead inside and vice versa.

  14. Amazing piece of work here. I'd probably read it again later in the day as there is a lot of layers to this poem. The subject of death, and how it affects the way we live and what we choose to think as important. There's a great deal to think on as one reads the poem.

  15. What can I say...terrific writing and great scenes from life and death told a larger than life story awe of your writing Charles ~

  16. "Perhaps reflecting that sense of deadness
    they fight in their jobs and lives.
    Dreaming themselves into an age . . ."

    Perhaps. But moving from (1) the living to (2) the dead and then back to the living, I would be in their place. Seeing it instead through your eyes, I cannot rest "while the craft cheats the careless observer
    with a simplicity that evokes unconditional response,
    the surrender to form and its emptiness." Instead I must see the subtlety and feel the awe and horror of building cities to the dead, of cataloging cruelty: I'll be reading this one again.

  17. The poem is almost an apotropaic wand, full of vivifying magic. On this anniversary celebration at dVerse I want to thank you for all you do to contribute to the sense of community and the intellectual stimulation of your prompts.

  18. This is actually a very informative (as well as artful) poem. To go from the living to the dead - of course, the dead so much more vivid and alive seeming. Very cool and very much like staring into one of those cases --well very far into those cases. k.

  19. You guide me through and i feel and listen

  20. Charles I had a hell of a day, I will be back to read this one fully tomorrow


  21. Rich, vivid... epic.

    Thanks for all you do for dVerse and poets everywhere, Charles.

  22. rich layers and vivid imagery. I've just taken a trip through time with you on this. strangely, or not so strangely, it is also a montage of this time space reality. very engaging write. loved it.

  23. You have a way of writing mini epic writes and at time true I always think about what will be placed in museum and exhibits from our times. I did enjoy my time here

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  25. So thought-provoking this piece. "I think they see
    what they want to see."...a rich poetic line...and you present much history here.

  26. i like how this moves through time, kind of like a movie, where the people walk into the museum, and then it fades to the past, to the lives of the nonliving

    Lillian Gish