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Poem: "The Launch at Bubastis" - The Wordsmith's Forge — LiveJournal
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
Poem: "The Launch at Bubastis"

This poem came out of the April 2, 2013 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired and sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette.  The form is forked parallels, a type of Egyptian verse.

The Launch at Bubastis

In the city of Bubastis
     lay the capitol of Egypt
     and the Pharaoh, god-among-men.

The shining arms of the Nile reached out to embrace
     the temple of Bast, cat-goddess of Egypt
     and the followers of Bast, priests and commoners alike.

There came to power a great man, Shoshenq the First,
     at the beginning of the 22nd Dynasty
     in the year 945 B.C.E.

Shoshenq reached out from Egypt
     to conquer other lands
     to draw them all together.

Shoshenq looked up from Egypt
     to see the stars in heaven's river
     to look upon them with desire.

First the Pharaoh went to his engineers and said,
     Build me a boat that can travel from the Nile to the sky.
     But the engineers said they could not do it.

Next the Pharaoh went to his priests and said,
     Can you do what the engineers cannot?
     Can you open a path to the sky?

The priests of Bast bowed and said,
     A cat may go anywhere it wishes, O Pharaoh.
     We will beseech the goddess on your behalf

The priests asked for precious and costly things:
     resins and spices and paints,
     rare woods and gold and jewels.

They gathered up the temple cats
     to see which would turn away in disdain
     and which would pat their paws upon the spells.

For it turned out that the spells to fly through the sky
     could only be written by humans with thumbs,
     could only be cast by Bast's chosen creatures.

It was the work of lifetimes of cats,
     and the kitten-who-had been in the beginning
     became a grizzled and solitary tom in his ninth life by the end.

Even the Pharaoh had grown old in the way of men,
     his body as wrinkled as a mummy though still living,
     held together by bandages and spells and replacement parts.

The oldest of the cats, their priest-king, chosen of Bast,
     stepped to the Pharaoh's right hand
     and cast the beginning of the spell that was written.

The youngest of the cats, their novice, chosen of Bast,
     stepped to the Pharaoh's left hand
     and cast the ending of the spell that was written.

Then between the fingertips of the Nile that cupped the temple
     the spell reached out along the silver beam of light
     and opened a path to the distant moon.

The Pharaoh stepped forth upon the enchanted path
     with the priest-king of cats at his right hand
     and the novice-kitten of cats at his left hand.

Around them the air was sweet with the power of the spell
     but beneath their feet the sand turned gray and strange
     and the shadows were sharp as sacrificial knives.

In that moment, Shoshenq felt like a child again,
     for his steps became light as a ball bouncing down steps
     and his ancient knees did not protest his play.

Quickly he opened the golden jeweled box
     and scooped into it a number of rocks
     and the dusty gray sand of the moon.

When they returned to the temple of Bast,
     the Pharaoh's heart was so full of joy
     that it burst in his chest and he died.

Then the priest-king of cats
     curled up at the Pharaoh's feet
     and joined him in death.

They were entombed together,
     man-mummy and cat-mummy
     each holding a stone from the distant moon.

Shoshenq's son, Osorkon the First,
     became the new Pharaoh
     and the Lord of Bubastis.

Osorkon looked at the novice-kitten and said,
     My father launched a great endeavor.
     Where do you suppose we shall go next?

The novice kitten looked into the dusky sky,
     pointing white whiskers at the bright evening star,
     cupping brown ears at the wandering light of Isis.

Osorkon knelt on the temple path and said,
     Yes, my little magician, that is an excellent plan.
     We shall hail Isis in Her home and ask for new spells!

* * *


Read about the cat-goddess Bast and her worship in the city of Bubastis.

Read about the 22nd Dynasty and Shoshenq the First.

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4 comments or Leave a comment
thnidu From: thnidu Date: April 8th, 2013 04:23 am (UTC) (Link)
And I've recently reread Diane Duane's The Book of Night with Moon. (And probably mentioned it here.)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: April 8th, 2013 04:28 am (UTC) (Link)


I loved that book too, and I'm flattered to have it mentioned in this context.
thnidu From: thnidu Date: April 8th, 2013 05:17 am (UTC) (Link)
forked parallels: I like this. I gather that the name refers to the parallel structure of the 2nd and 3rd lines of most of the stanzas:

For it turned out that the spells to fly through the sky
     could only be written by humans with thumbs,
     could only be cast     by Bast's chosen creatures.

And interesting that this is a semantic/syntactic parallelism, unlike the phonological parallelisms (rhyme, alliteration, assonance, &c.) basic to European traditional verse forms, but very like the parallelism used in another Afro-Asiatic language, Biblical Hebrew:

Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary?
     Who may live on your holy hill?

He whose walk is blameless
     and who does what is righteous.

who speaks the truth from his heart
     and has no slander on his tongue.

who does his neighbor no wrong
     and casts no slur on his fellow man.

(Psalm 15:1-3, as analyzed here)

Edited at 2013-04-08 05:18 am (UTC)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: April 8th, 2013 06:45 am (UTC) (Link)


You're right on the mark with the analysis of forked parallels. Sorry I forgot to include the reference for that, it's linked now. Having looked up that material while researching the Shu, I'm likely to use it for the originating cultures as well.
4 comments or Leave a comment