The third poem in the book addresses fatherhood and (im)mortality in what is — I hope — a unique fashion. Here goes:
Ever since grade school, I have been fascinated by Egyptology. When I was in college, for example, I researched in great detail for an art history class the evolution of the Horus falcon figure from representational sculptures of the bird itself to the iconic falcon-headed man (see picture at left) that symbolized the Egyptian sky god Horus, son of Isis and Osiris, and bestower of divinity on the Pharaohs. What an Egypto-crypto-nerd I was! (And still am, thank you.)
So, anyway, when the traveling King Tut exhibit came to San Francisco in the late 70s (with the famous golden death mask, no less), you damn right I was there. And I wanted to pass on my love for all things Egyptological to Marty. However, our tickets to the exhibit were scheduled for midnight (the museum was setting up the tours of Tut's treasures 24/7), and I was worried eight-year-old Marty wouldn't be able to stay awake for the entire tour. So, as the poem's narrative says, I had him take an afternoon nap earlier that day; that worked for a short while, but the rooms and rooms of gold and blue faience and lapis lazuli and ebony and filigree tired Marty out, poor kid, and I ended up carrying him on my shoulders, asleep, for much of our audience with the great boy-king, the magnificent and ultimate golden boy for the ages.
In terms of poetic craft, one can't help but notice the wildly varying line lengths here: more a visual free-verse device than a metric or syllabic one. I do sense the influence, in the occasional dramatic line break, of Sharon Olds (as I mentioned in my last blog post), but for the most part there is quite a lot more control in my lineation here than in the previous poem in the book, "Gallery of the Mind." I just now double-checked my Master of Fine Arts thesis, and it doesn't contain this poem, so I must have written it after I finished my MFA in 1989. Probably 1990 or 1991 then.
Something craft-wise that jumps out at me now is the poem's diction. My obsession for phrasings you don't get to say out loud often and which are like hard bits of ever-lovin' candy in your mouth: skeletal, queueing up, creosote, gatekeeper, faience, ibex, lapis lazuli, panoply, scimitar, pearlescent. And of course those lovely Egyptologist words and phrases: shawabty, ankh, nemes, "the scorpion goddess Selket" (pictured above) and "the vulture and cobra of the two Egypts" (shown above on the brow of Tut's death mask). Ain't it all just grand?
As I was recently searching the Net for images to accompany the poem, I found a couple that deserve special attention. The first, on the left below, is a black and white shot of a face-to-face moment between Tut and a young woman that astonishingly parallels the feeling of my poem's ending but from a woman's point of view. Clearly such feelings have been shared by other people viewing Tut's golden face.
The second image interestingly highlights Tut's glass enclosure, his fishbowl that both protects and imprisons. Looking back at my poem, I notice the word "plexiglass" appears twice, so that I was evidently (though probably subconsciously) also honing in on that barrier. And it is that barrier that allows for the superimposition device at the end, right?
In these two images and in the poem there is a fascinating focus on what separates us from Tut, the glass wall that paradoxically as well as poignantly emphasizes our shared humanity with him. I suppose we all have our figurative gold masks and invisible cages.
Note: The image on the left is from the blog Queen Mediocretia of Suburbia (28 Sep 2006). The image on the right is from Royal Exhibitions, which could put on a King Tut show in your very own mall. I do want to make sure to recommend "Queen Mediocretia," which I discovered only because of this King Tut photo; this blog is one of the best I've encountered lately in the blogosphere: tremendously entertaining and witty, never dull. Check it out, especially The Great Hall of TMI, though only if you are 18 or older! Fun.