Suppose there is no Summerland,
no Valhalla, no Avalon.
Imagine, after an age of piety
and Christian sacrament,
that the Sky World hasn’t changed
since the gods ruled Thebes.

Maybe our enlightened dead
find an afterlife of dizzying mazes
and narrow corridors, the very world
for which Egyptians provided amply;
an eternity attained only after
seventy days of meticulous preparation.

Tell me, how would you feel
staggering the stony passage
toward the Hall of the Two Truths,
heckled and accused its entire length?
Would you still be straining
to recognize anything of
a cloud-carpeted heaven?

Shouldn’t there be a scroll
tucked under your arm?
No less than forty-two gods will
expect you to know them by name.
How will you negate your sins
without carefully worded scripture?

What if your family, so removed
from those papyrus clues,
doesn’t know to bring you food?
They could recite you a feast.
Or they could carve or paint
for you sustenance, never-depleting,
if only they knew about the ka
and its hunger.

That you’ll die but once, you’d
implore Thoth, “Judge me!”
But he’ll not soil the holy scales
of Ma’at with the likes of your heart–
still slick with gore, it stinks
of the living.

You’ll remember that moment:
your blood and breath gone still, thinking,
“I’ll never need or want again,”
that death afforded you
the leisure of a king.

But you didn’t die a king.
And in this world
of kohl-eyed pharaohs,
empty-handed, you are a beggar.

It is here, you’ll wait,
in the liminal breath between
the ever-living and oblivion, watching
perfect creatures of regal bone
and raisin skin proceed, judged
and blessed, into Duat.

Across rivers of water and sand,
these ferried souls become
themselves suns, and peers of Ra.
They are done with sorrow.

And when you’ve counted
a thousand ferries that have sailed
without you, seventy days
won’t seem so very long a time.
Discovering your shadow
is a most cumbersome burden,
you will understand it was never
your body that hungered, or hurt,
or lived.

You would cry out, wouldn’t you?
You would explain that you didn’t know,
your family didn’t know,
there has been an awful mistake–
if only someone east of here
would pray your mouth open.

Published in The New Guard, 2013


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