for J

 ‘I have come

to this castle in the north’


At Karnak, who was it unearthed

in nineteen twenty-five

those twenty-five colossi

of Akhenaten? In the photograph

they rise up out of the sand

like science fiction clones

or giant ivory chessmen

dropped at the end of a game

on a beach in the Hebrides.


They are caricatures of what

these twenty-five years

have made of one who stood

arms folded and holding

a flail to palely control

a class of Egyptian girls.

After me. What’s your name?

Mr John, Mr John,

where you get pot belly?


Too much of Egypt has gone

to try and reconstruct

determinatives.  Look at this

album with half its photos

fallen out, odd inscriptions

above blurred faces; at our

spoilheap of slides and this

ciné we cannot translate

into any blank cartouche.


Voices that cheered the First

Cataract with us or sang us

to Kitchener’s Island have fallen

dumb, have dried at their source

to the fixed mummy-smiles

of Tjuyu and Yuya, a mother

and father, her hair plaited,

his mouth opening.  My parents

have stopped singing, too.


At the Colossi on the West Bank

where we leaned our hired bikes

and Dad’s ka went out

of control for lack of sugar

(sugar stirring all about us),

lumps of crumbling figure

guard a temple that has gone,

though a spirit free-wheeled there,

Akhenaten’s gold begetter.


Was it love or self that drove us

to escape high priests and viziers,

to find a freer style for our

marriage in that bow of the Nile,

an aim fletched with the Truth

Feather, to penetrate the Window

of Appearance?   Glass shimmering

between us.  The Priests of Money

putting paid to the experiment.


The Hidden One proclaims

Akhenaten’s move was politic,

the sun he worshipped was himself,

his Venusian features, woman’s

pelvis, spindly limbs,

curved spine, bent

knees were caused by a disease

which made him blind and led

to such touching scenes of intimacy


with Nefertiti, who was never

exiled to that ‘castle in the north’

but changed her name, her sex,

became co-regent, left

posterity and Hitler the face

she wished to show, turning

a blind eye as the wall

came down, and mocking

all other women.


Checkmate. The king is dead.

These stelae mark his boundaries.

We live on as minimalists

dreaming a Tutankhamun

might clear our title to a castle

or fix the roof.  Our daughters

breathe the western wind –

but one has asked for a scarab

and one is a worshipper of the sun.



                        first published in Quadrant