Moving Through Rooms in the British Museum
The broken oversized white marble bodies
stripped from their pediment, of their bright paint,
of their privileged position on top of the Parthenon
on top of the Acropolis, spared the Athens smog
and Ottoman gunpowder, lounge on top of pedestals
like gods and goddesses, their time-amputated limbs
crammed artistically into this windowless room
in the British Museum, their finely carved fleshy
weighty arms and thighs, their muscular abdomens,
the occasional hint of drapey clothing, bright white,
arms or legs posed in perfect balance,
reclining or standing with plain metal assistance,
they’ve lost even their names and have been given
the lordly title of opportunistic elegant Elgin
and his conveniently loose interpretation
of the Sultan’s firman, they miss their sun,
that dazzling Greek light, their athletic
and artistic festivals, their wars and other fun.
And in another room, the stylized Egyptians
with their impossibly wide shoulders
and narrow waists, their androgynous faces,
their lost desert world in profile and felines
they can’t seem to do without – such a winning
human weakness – even in the next world,
their cold pharaonic hearts in canopic jars,
their mummies under golden protection.
In the next not-too-large room a flat black stone –
granodiorite – standing upright draws attention.
The predictable boastful formality of officialdom –
recording yet another child king granting
gifts and tax exemptions to the priesthood,
the priests promising various things in return,
new statues, festivals, temple adornments –
painstakingly decreed in three languages
in white, a child’s correct chalkboard:
hieroglyphs, demotic, Greek. We read
the small scholarly museum label
and nod, as one, at the Rosetta Stone
which all of us have heard of
but whose meaning we take for granted
because none of us can understand it.
Daniel Goodwin is an award-winning poet and novelist. His second novel, The Art of Being Lewis, is forthcoming with Cormorant Books.
The Ekphrastic Review
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