Friday, November 7, 2008
Love Letter to King Tutankh-amen
I painted this statue of young King Tutankhamen about 25 years ago when I used to take "ceramics classes". They weren't classes where you actually made ceramics; they were classes where you purchased ready-made clay pieces, sanded them, and then painted them and fired them. This was very popular in the 80s. I made a plate with flowers for my mom, a honey pot for myself, and this head of Tutankhamen. Now it sits on the top of the bookshelf looking down at me as I type. To take this photo I placed it on a blue Egyptian cotton housedress that was given to me as a gift about 20 years ago. Unlike my fake Tut, it is handmade in Egypt.
I used to keep this Tut I painted on the stairwell, but had to move it so not to give the wrong impression of accepting idolatry to some of the more conservative-minded Muslims who came over. But they weren't the only ones who didn't take a shine to Tut. If you look closely at the end photo, you will see that that the base of the cobra on his crown was broken. I glued it back on after my mother snapped it off. She hates snakes. As an Evangelical Christian she believes snakes symbolize the devil, so she broke it off when I wasn't looking. I got mad at her, but she didn't care. Said she didn't do it. How else did it just break off? I asked her angrily. She pretended she didn't hear me, but kept a small smile on her face. What's the point of breaking it off? I said. I will just glue it back on.
This is where I live. Among many negotiations.
I came across a most beautiful poem recently, by a woman, now dead, named Dulce Maria Loynaz. She was Cuban. Her story is very interesting. She wrote poems when she was younger, but was only "discovered" again in her 80s. She had a PhD in Law but rarely practiced. In her youth she had a very limited audience but that never stopped her from writing. Once, she went to Egypt at the time when the tomb of Tut was "discovered" by the West, and wrote the following poem.
Love letter to King Tutankhamen. by Dulce Maria Loynaz
Young King Tut-Ank-Amen.
Yesterday afternoon in the museum, I saw the little ivory column which you painted blue and pink and yellow.
For that fragile object, useless and meaningless in our mean existence, for that simple little column painted by your fine hands — leaves of autumn — I would have given the most beautiful ten years of my life, also useless and meaningless. Ten years of love and faith.
Next to the little column I also saw, young King Tut-Ank-Amen, I also saw yesterday afternoon — one of those brilliant afternoons of your Egypt — I also saw your heart, kept safe in a gold box.
For that little heart crumbled to dust, for that little heart kept in a box of enamelled gold, I would have given my own heart, young and warm; still pure.
Because yesterday afternoon, King filled with death, my heart beat for you, full of life, and my life embraced your death and, it seemed to me, melted it.
It melted the hard death clinging to your bones, with the heat of my breath, with the blood of my dream, and after that uproar of love and death I am still intoxicated with love and with death...
Yesterday afternoon — afternoon of Egypt sprinkled with white ibises — I loved your impossible eyes beyond the crystal.
And in another distant Egyptian afternoon like this afternoon — its light shattered with birds — your eyes were immense, split along your trembling brows.
Long ago in another afternoon like this afternoon of mine, your eyes spread themselves above the earth, opened themselves above the earth like the two mysterious lotuses of your country.
Reddened eyes: dried by the twilight air, the color of rivers swollen with September.
Lords of a kingdom were your eyes, lords of flourishing cities, of gigantic stones then already a thousand years old, of fields sown to the horizon, of armies victorious far beyond the deserts of Nubia, whose agile archers, whose intrepid charioteers have been frozen forever in profile in hieroglyphs and on monoliths.
Everything fit into your eyes, tender and powerful King, everything was destined for you before you had time to see it. And certainly you didn't have time.
Now your eyes are closed and a gray dust covers the eyelids; only this gray dust, the ashes of exhausted dreams. Now between your eyes and my eyes forever lies an adamantine crystal.
For these your eyes which I could never pry open with my kisses, I would give to whoever wants them my own eyes, avid for landscapes, thieves of your heaven, masters of the world's sun.
I would give my living eyes to feel for a moment your gaze across three thousand nine hundred years. To feel your gaze on me now — however it might come — vaguely terrified, curdled out of the pallid halo of Isis.
Young King Tut-Ank-Amen, dead at nineteen years of age: let me tell you these crazy things which perhaps no one else has ever told you, permit me to tell them to you in the solitude of my hotel room, in the chill of walls shared with strangers, walls colder than the walls of the tomb which you didn't wish to share with anyone.
I tell you this, adolescent King, frozen forever in profile in your immovable youth, in your crystallized grace... Frozen in that expression which forbade the sacrifice of innocent doves, in the temple of the terrible Ammon-Ra.
This is how I will continue to see you when I am far away, you standing straight before the jealous priests in a flurry of white wings...
I will take nothing from you beyond this dream, because you are everything which is foreclosed to me, prohibited, infinitely impossible. From century to century your gods kept watch over you, hanging onto the very last hair.
I think that your hair must have been straight as the night rain. And I think that because of your hair, because of your doves and your nineteen years so close to death, I would have been then what I will never be now: a little bit of love.
But you didn't wait for me and you fled along the edge of the crescent moon; you didn't wait for me and you fled toward death like a child going to the park, laden with toys with which you are not yet tired of playing. Followed by your ivory carriage, your trembling gazelles.
If sensible people wouldn't have been indignant, I would have kissed your toys one by one, heavy toys of gold and silver, strange toys with which no ordinary child — soccer-player, boxer — would know how to play.
If sensible people wouldn't have been scandalized, I would have taken you from your golden sarcophagus, enclosed in three wooden sarcophagi inside a great sarcophagus of granite, I should have taken you from the depths, so sinister, which render you more dead to my bold heart which you make beat strongly, which only for you has ever beaten, oh sweetest King! in this bright afternoon of Egypt — arm of the Nile's light.
If sensible people wouldn't have been enraged, I would have taken you from your five sarcophagi, I would have unwrapped the bindings which so oppress your feeble body, and I would have wrapped you softly in my silken shawl.
I would have rested you upon my breast like a sick child. And as if to a sick child, I would have begun to sing to you the most beautiful of my tropical songs, the sweetest, the briefest of my poems.
(Spanish: Carta de Amor al Rey Tut-Ank-Amen) from the book Poemas naúfragos (1950)
Translation by Judith Kerman, first published in Michigan Quarterly Review, Fall 1997