Before the Painted Eye of Nesykhonsu
—Coffin of Nesykhonsu (976-889 BC)
The shape of the body and the body inside. The body as stone. The body thrown away after the story. Bring out the canopic jars. Smell the Nile, your eyes muddied with kohl.
I place my heart next to abundance. My liver abandoned to crows. My lungs pick themselves up on the wind, fancy as snowflakes, to rejoin the sky.
Bow down in the rushes and show me our hands. Shall I wear a small beard like a pharaoh, chin-strapping it on? This mummy case stands for the ease of the observer, for the ease of the outside eye.
His two bottom teeth at an angle, a little V, ivory, hereditary glyph. My cowlick, the daughter’s cowlick, the son’s. A message written on their bodies that says mine. Like a peacock’s tail, a frond speaking but silent.
What need of a photo if you have a hand. What need of a memory if you have next door and the weight in your arms that you ease into bed. I used to sing songs. I lay out the wool coverlet.
The tenderness of the fragment. The homeliness of worn. Details like repeated days—checks, feathers, the planks of the floor that hold us up.
The scarab beetle inside the sun disk—the morning sun and the evening and each fruit. A headdress of birds. A garland of days, hanging low, adorning our necks.
This is what is left—body, tale. Gone is the secret interior, the airs and intentions. The impulse I could hear.
Inscription. Sign. As if I were uncorrupted, as if I were a cup from which nothing has spilt. What I have told no one.
Remains. Retina print. Whistled tune. First grass of the summer. Boone’s Farm Apple Wine. The jackal’s head. First day without a jacket outside.
Call and Response
And now, I am a toad longing for its swamp, a horse its barn. I am hoarse with my longing though no hand waits to gentle me there.
A woman not a woman gives me pause. Plausible curves. Plausive lips. (I have sipped my Plath.) A silhouette crepe-thin. Scrape off the jams to hang this early death.
The turban on the bed. No, under it (pillow and tooth). Lavendar, black, how to begin.
The flower lifted herself to the bee. A long time ago. And now, I am a fine, dark stick stuck in the road, forked and dusty.
Grandchild whose squeal is the size of a teaspoon. The petals fly back. Your wet blurt. Your juicy wind and grunt.
* * * *
A cry in the night and the dark parted before me. My brain floating like a sponge of cream.
How many dawns, fever and spot. How many unlikely dreams. My arm on the chair’s arm. The new moon’s curve on the rocking chair.
Slumberous bag behind me on the bed. My body drank your heat like a kiss or a drug or the sun. A farrago. Oh, longing. Whose old fingers picked your heart away.
The phone is ringing. Previous. Next. Only the petals like shark teeth come flying back.
The next daughter I have I’ll keep in a drawer. Fore milk and hind milk. She’ll hold my kiss in her hand.
Susan Grimm is the author of Almost Home (Cleveland State University Poetry Center 1997), Lake Erie Blue (BkMk Press 2004), and Roughed Up by the Sun’s Mothering Tongue (Finishing Line Press 2011). Her work has appeared in Blackbird, The Journal, The Cortland Review, Seneca Review, and Tar River Poetry. She earned an MFA in poetry through the Northeast Ohio MFA consortium (NEOMFA) and teaches creative writing part-time at the Cleveland Institute of Art. She also occasionally teaches classes for Literary Cleveland. She lives in Cleveland, Ohio, and can be found online at The White Space Inside the Poem.