We crossed to the other side, the burgee of the boat
Ceased flapping and lagged behind like a dead wing.
The visible air seemed neither cold nor hot,
The violet clouds flew past us, scurrying.
The plain was dark, and the mountain was tall,
And the echo swallowed the boatman’s call.
The atmosphere was dense with the spirits
Compressed into one possibility,
Living each other, passing through the sieves
Of their lungs the lukewarm brew of eternity,
Swelling like a giant fruit, becoming more
Conspicuous as the boatman’s oar
Touched the sand. The Shabtis jumped out at once,
The air filled up with the varying resonance
Of their deep harsh voices. They picked up
The heavy stones, the logs lying around,
And carried them up the slope, happily
Smiling and tossing the porous ground.
We stood on the shore, confused and reluctant to go.
What was expected of us? Could we do more
Than to die and cross here?
We were a mere
Shadow, fuming like a sacrificial flame,
Spitting out images, always the same.
… I don’t know why I am writing to you, my dear.
My Shabti is digging, and I am sitting here
Listening to the groans of those less fortunate than us,
Who didn’t have a Shabti in their sarcophagus.
The only thing I was going to say
Is that you must remember the taste of the coming day,
The veiny grasshopper sipping from the drop of dew:
Only those things which appear unfettered, new.
Love them, be them, but be distinct from them,
Do not let them possess something of you,
For every singing moment and every gem
Will give you its own voice, and shape, and hue
Known to the others, and they will be all compressed
Eventually within your heartless chest.
Find what you do not share with anyone,
Discover what is not impregnated with anything,
Your own whizzing planets, your own sun,
Ardently rolling along its mercurial string,
Forests filled with creatures of gaudy shapes,
Weird and unique, bright-yellow and orange grapes,
Rivers bursting with colours, gardens in hectic bloom,
Defying the very thought of decay and doom,
Fish springing up, the mordents of their wings,
Dogs, covered with scales, spiralling up the trees,
The huge moon reclining on its flaxen side,
Pushed up and sliding down towards the lacy tide.
Take armfuls of what cannot shackle you
With another soul, and then go through.
I am locked in this ever-enlarging pit
Like a tame unsuspecting magpie suddenly hit
With an arrow, a thousand times larger than it.
My hand stretches back, a long withered stem
Which has lost its flowers, every one of them.
A dog chained and forgotten behind the hedge,
A malachite flower with the nut-brown edge,
A wave of rain bouncing off the painted wall,
Crumpling the waxen papyri with its waterfall,
Spreading around, ringing and splashing again,
Mixing up memories, washing off life like a stain.