Robert D. Sutherland



My friend, accept this as a celebration
---- -of our meeting.
When I first saw you stretched behind the glass
tight-laced in linen bandages,
your face and feet uncovered, one arm bare,
I must confess I was repelled.

So dry you looked and fragile,
as though if touched you’d crumble
into flakes like ancient pastry —
or as an owl pellet crushed, yield teeth and brittle bones and hair.

“My God,” I thought. You seemed grotesque,
---- -a travesty of human form
displayed like musty merchandise, obscene;
alone three thousand years,
now rudely hauled from privacy
and placed on show,
---- -a public curiosity —

skin stretched taut
like shriveled leather,
tough as jerky, paper-thin,
pulled so tightly on your bones
---- -it should have split.
I couldn’t tell if you were male or female.

And your toes!
gnawed sausage casings, crisp,
---- -honeycombed with dust:
I thought of rats, of winged invading insects,
---- -beetles burrowing.

It was your face that most attracted me—
---- -raisin-wrinkled, angular,
all peaks and valleys,
dark as oiled mahogany.
nose collapsed,
retracted lips, exposing upper teeth:
---- -not quite a smile,
---- -and certainly no sneer—
more like a pinched-off sigh of resignation,
---- -born of pain.

Long I looked, withholding judgment,
---- -pondering:
was your expression
---- -tortured?
---- -or serene?
And then I knew, and with a rush
I met your personhood.

More, far more than skin and bone
---- -and lightless eyes —
and yet those too!
with brain and bowels removed,
---- -you still possessed your heart.

And face to face with your humanity,
it seemed to me your hand reached out
across those thirty dustblown centuries —
---- -over silence, over wars,
over all the trash and clutter
---- -of the birth and death of empires,
over darkness, and decay,
over continents and seas,
over all the barriers of time and space
---- -a silent greeting —

O friend and fellow-traveller,
---- -some things endure.

Copyright © Robert D. Sutherland, 2020



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