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.
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.