am Irt-irw, daughter of Pedamenope!
a soft mouth smelling of new dates. He kissed my hand four times;
one for each finger, called me his plot of ground planted with flowers,
a lovely place to wander in. We ran amongst the incense trees in
my father’s garden, their thirsty feet sunk into muddy pits. You
are my vineyard. Let me drink from you. The sand warm beneath
my feet. His hand on my belly. The daughter I bore. I remember this.
morning it grew dark and did not lighten. I heard him say, she
fell. I could not wake her. The sky lifted the corner of her
skirt and I plunged my face into its dark folds, cried for my mama.
She buried me in the night of her monstrous thighs. My thumb crept
towards my mouth, and I found it warm and comforting.
Goddess hushed my weeping for the seventy days I lay with the embalmers:
their hands were busy in every part of me. I would have blushed
if I had not been dead. They cut me open, scooped out my entrails;
my liver and my lungs, packed them into jars stoppered with the
heads of beasts. They whisked my brain to cream. I would not be
needing it: but my heart they left me. I coffer it between my ribs.
Now I can only recall things I loved and things I hated. I can not
measure time, nor the length of my arm. So forgive me if my memory
they laid me in a crib of salt till I was parched, swaddled me in
linen, cradled me in this pretty box. My tears dried up. My family
dragged me to my tomb, waving flowers beneath my chin; but their
scent had been taken into a distant room. In any case, I was drowsy
enough. I did not need lotus blooms. I heard hair torn out, like
barley ripped from the fields by robbers. The weeping of my children;
it sounded like laughter, and I grew cold.
priest struck my wooden lips, but the mourners’ wailing was so loud
no-one heard me shout I do not want to leave you! They bricked
me in, smoothed plaster on the door. Left bread. A bowl of meat.
Cheap beer in good jars. I gulped it all. Tasted grit between my
left me food a short while. I grew hungry. Around me, fat ducks
quacked in the reed thicket daubed on the walls. I could hear the
painted offering table creak with its weight of loaves fresh from
the oven. Another table groaned beneath its load of roasted lamb;
another heaped with jars of beer, and cakes, and figs, and dates,
and fried garlic and grilled chicken.
water fluttered in my mouth. I was surrounded by food I could not
reach. I scrabbled at the inside of my box until my Soul showed
me how to break free and leap up through the lid. I staggered through
watercolour marshes, grabbed a squawking bird, crammed it whole
into my mouth and did not stop to pluck it. I licked the pictures
off the walls, swallowed every mouthful quick as a jackal. There
was no time to chew.
I couldn’t sleep.
my continual night I heard my husband whisper, you are my vineyard.
Let me drink from you. A strange voice answered: his new wife,
fingers sticky with dough. My fury beat against the door of my tomb,
found its way through and swept across the river to the house that
was once mine. I filled the mouth of the wind and blew sand into
your flour so that your teeth ground down; sharpened the teeth of
the desert and bit your new son’s heel with scorpions. Feasted on
your sorrow. I became hard as wood.
Then there was the day light fell through the bricked-up door. I
thought, he is sorry: he has sent her away. He cannot live without
me. Has come to lie down at my side. But they were robbers,
all nervous hands fumbling for my bracelets, the carved beetle I
carried over my heart. I saw how thin they were. Hungrier than me.
But I’d bribed important demons to stand at my head and feet.
This is Irt-irw, daughter of Pedamenope!
Their shrieking sent the thieves away with nothing but my jewellery.
choked my tomb. I lay quiet, counted my fingers, made do with silence.
The river was always there, coiling round the edge of the village,
bright as a knife blade. The passing of a hundred generations dimmed
my taste for anger. I forgot your name, as did everyone on earth.
It’s hard to stay furious with a man whose name you do not recall.
Now there’s not a splinter left of your lying body. And I’m the
one telling this story.
flared again. Perhaps the Gods had come to fetch me? But these men
were worse than my two-thousand year-old hunger, worse than the
embalmers, worse than the thieves who at least said prayers to turn
away the demons.
am Irt-irw, daughter of Pedamenope!
robbers did not hear me, did not believe in curses, did not tremble.
There was not much left to steal, so they took my body, the box
I lay in. Scraped the ointment from my feet, tore the flowers from
my breast. Chipped the paintings from the walls. Could they not
see I’d sucked out all the marrow?
hauled me from my tomb. Packed me like a crate of pickled fish and
shipped me north, across the Great Green and further, to a country
where the water turns to stone. I had no Gods to protect me, because
they could not sail this far. These men unravelled me from my wrappings.
Hung me from a hook like a hide waiting for the tanner. They think
I am too old for modesty, but they are mistaken. See how I clutch
myself where life begins. I rediscovered anger, and how sweet it
is not like sleep: let no-one ever tell you otherwise. You poor
ghosts nibble at the edges of my dreams, your distant voices the
sound of bees caught in a pot, and of as little consequence. You
are watching me now, comparing my breasts to leather satchels, how
my eyes are shrivelled up like last year’s grapes. I will not even
lift my eyelids to glare at you. You are so pale; wrapped up against
a cold I never knew.
too busy smiling to talk to you. My tongue is wood and clacks inside
my mouth. You cannot take my name.
am Irt-irw, daughter of Pedamenope.
live forever. Not you. I’ve watched one hundred of your thieving
generations turn to slime.
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