When you awake, you stretch
your cracked trunk legs. You rise
to split a brown pomegranate,
wet your parched tongue on its pips.
You behead the gold baboon,
dip into his canopic stomach,
dig between your bandages and find
a new shelf for those old lungs.
You pace in dark, ribs rattling
with amulets. You sit, touching
the abacus beads at your neck. Read,
re-read the only book of the dead.
I am propped against your wall,
my fur a prism of criss-crossed
orange linen. I smell of cedar oil
and bitumen. I will bring you:
love, joy, perfume, the mewling litter
you never had. If I find my lioness
mask, I will hack off all thieving arms.
I will heave the sun into the sky for you.
Could you just scratch me – right there,
right between the ears?
That’s the spot.
This poem was written in the library of Liverpool John Moores Uni in 2015 where I was studying Creative Writing. I’d been taking research notes in the nearby World Museum for a spooky short story, so my brain and my notebooks were overflowing with strange facts about snakes and dinosaurs and canopic jars.
I did a little further research online that afternoon into mummification and (being a cat lover) was perturbed by the massive amount of animals the Ancient Egyptians killed for sacrificial purposes. And there was no sanctity for the dead bodies, either – in 1890, 19.5 tonnes of ancient cat mummies were sold in Liverpool to be used as fertiliser. Grim.
One particularly nicely wrapped cat looked more like a treasured companion to me, and I pictured the tomb that it might’ve lain in. I was interested in the relationship between owner and pet, and how the cat might have felt about its deification (knowing cats, I figured it would probably milk the situation.) I have also been fascinated for many years by the Ancient Egyptian belief that you re-use your earthly body in the afterlife. Sometimes I picture those swaddled bodies waking up, far from home, in a dark museum case…but that’s a poem for another time.
Mummified Cat is one of the few pieces of work I enjoy reading over without feeling too critical. It was a joyful poem, both written and edited with pleasure, as if the words wanted to be out in the world, and my mind was only the boat they had sailed here in.