In the British Museum
Alone and watching from the window
of my singularity the milky, eddying
cityscape, I’ve come to see the mummy
faces painted on the wood and stone
of immortality, traveling from Egypt
here. The sun is bright for winter;
in the courtyard, pigeons scavenge
ceaselessly, fluttering down and up,
flashing captive pupils at the sky.
I enter, make my way through tweedy
scholars and the tides of Japanese,
pay, and pass beyond the spectacles
of moving lives, into a burial-house
where even death demurred a moment,
hesitating at the body’s likenesses,
and let the spirits rise and travel
on. Who is this child, still wistful
for the man unlived? This woman,
rich in ringlets, gold, and emeralds,
adorned as for her husband, married
to the tomb? A youth in fashionable
Roman garments, comely but tubercular
beneath his laurelled wrappings, turns
his eyes away as if to weep. Another
face could be my father’s furrowed
deep in distresses of his being,
thinking back and forward into the night.
Forever, he is younger, now, than I.
In my mind I paint my dead, wondering
if remembrance accompanies them along
their underworld. They are untouched,
untouchable, mingling with the shades.
I paint myself in my dissolving time,
a glassy thought. The air is light;
all here seems distilled, perfected—
sacred in its dust. The absent wings
fly upward, and hieratic animals
who attend us gaze upon these images
and find them beautiful. A stillness
follows me outside—the pigeons mute,
my absolute desires changed into art,
the fates placated with the sacrifice.
Catharine Savage Brosman
from her book Places in Mind
LSU Press, 2000
used with permission of the poet and special permission from LSU Press.