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FURTHER READING
Poems about the Afterlife
Advice to Passengers
by John Gallaher
Beyond Even This
by Maggie Anderson
Beyond the Years
by Paul Laurence Dunbar
Cruel Cogito
by Ken Chen
Descriptions of Heaven and Hell
by Mark Jarman
En Route
by Darcie Dennigan
Gone
by Lia Purpura
Heaven for Helen
by Mark Doty
How Can It Be I Am No Longer I
by Lucie Brock-Broido
In a Country
by Larry Levis
Larry Levis in Provincetown
by Rick Hilles
Populating Heaven
by Maureen N. McLane
Purgatory
by Maxine Kumin
Red String
by Minnie Bruce Pratt
Song ["When I am dead, my dearest"]
by Christina Rossetti
The Book of the Dead Man (Food)
by Marvin Bell
The Odyssey, Book 11: ll. 538-556
by Rowan Ricardo Phillips
Other Dramatic Monologues
Daffy Duck In Hollywood
by John Ashbery
Falling
by James Dickey
Lady Lazarus
by Sylvia Plath
Ludwig Van Beethoven's Return to Vienna
by Rita Dove
Mrs. Cavendish and the Dancer
by Stephen Dunn
My Last Duchess
by Robert Browning, read by Richard Howard
Nikolaus Mardruz to his Master Ferdinand, Count of Tyrol, 1565
by Richard Howard
Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister
by Robert Browning
The Odyssey, Book 11: ll. 538-556
by Rowan Ricardo Phillips
[American Journal]
by Robert Hayden
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Mummy of a Lady Named Jemutesonekh
XXI Dynasty

 
by Thomas James

My body holds its shape. The genius is intact.
Will I return to Thebes? In that lost country
The eucalyptus trees have turned to stone.
Once, branches nudged me, dropping swollen blossoms,
And passionflowers lit my father's garden.
Is it still there, that place of mottled shadow,
The scarlet flowers breathing in the darkness?

I remember how I died. It was so simple!
One morning the garden faded. My face blacked out.
On my left side they made the first incision.
They washed my heart and liver in palm wine— 
My lungs were two dark fruit they stuffed with spices.
They smeared my innards with a sticky unguent
And sealed them in a crock of alabaster.

My brain was next. A pointed instrument
Hooked it through my nostrils, strand by strand.
A voice swayed over me. I paid no notice.
For weeks my body swam in sweet perfume.
I came out Scoured. I was skin and bone.
Thy lifted me into the sun again
And packed my empty skull with cinnamon.

They slit my toes; a razor gashed my fingertips.
Stitched shut at last, my limbs were chaste and valuable,
Stuffed with a paste of cloves and wild honey.
My eyes were empty, so they filled them up, 
Inserting little nuggets of obsidian.
A basalt scarab wedged between my breasts
Replaced the tinny music of my heart.

Hands touched my sutures. I was so important!
They oiled my pores, rubbing a fragrance in.
An amber gum oozed down to soothe my temples.
I wanted to sit up. My skin was luminous,
Frail as the shadow of an emerald.
Before I learned to love myself too much, 
My body wound itself in spools of linen.

Shut in my painted box, I am a precious object.
I wear a wooden mask. These are my eyelids,
Two flakes of bronze, and here is my new mouth,
Chiseled with care, guarding its ruby facets.
I will last forever. I am not impatient —
My skin will wait to greet its old complexions.
I'll lie here till the world swims back again.

When I come home the garden will be budding, 
White petals breaking open, clusters of night flowers,
The far-off music of a tambourine.
A boy will pace among the passionflowers,
His eyes no longer two bruised surfaces.
I'll know the mouth of my young groom, I'll touch
His hands.  Why do people lie to one another?






From Letters to a Stranger by Thomas James. Copyright 2008 by Thomas James. Published by Graywolf Press. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
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