Egyptian Mummy – Jim Friedman

Egyptian Mummy
(the first object in Neil MacGregor’s radio series A History of the World in 100 Objects)

Hornedjitef captains his coffin. Under the lid
are a map of stars and a figured frieze – ship’s log
of sailing through the underworld, using a grid
of stars to navigate cold galaxies that fog
his voyage to forever. In his cedar casque,
his amulets about him, organs parcelled up inside,
like post sent to the future, his eternal task
is surfing heavens set before him, starry-eyed.
The figured frieze unrolls like frames of film, showing
him sailing to his own Byzantium, among
protecting gods and useful slaves. This movie, going
round inside the lid, plays to a packed house of one.
Reclining, mummified with unguents and tars,
Hornedjitef is at the pictures, watching stars.

Hornedjitef has stopped in Bloomsbury instead
of heaven. Among the lost and found a hundred years,
he’s been dumped as luggage left here by the dead,
enduring endless sample-takers, probes and smears.
Excursions to a hospital, to get some rays,
have taken him out of himself. Now, brought to earth,
beneath his cartonnage of black and gold, he displays
his browned bandages, looking like a tuber. Rebirth
becomes a gruesomely forensic comedy,
not ending happily beyond the furthest stars
but here, exhibited half-dressed. The public see
his name-cartouche, his mummy, no canopic jars
but maps of naively shaped stars. Something that hope
might see – or children draw – lacking a telescope. 

Jim Friedman