"Mummies To Burn"

A weekly poem, read by the author.
Jan. 12 2010 8:22 AM

"Mummies To Burn"

Click the arrow on the audio player to hear  Charles Harper Webb read this poem. You can also download the recording or subscribe to Slate's Poetry Podcast on iTunes.
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"During a railway expansion in Egypt in the 19th century, construction companies unearthed so many mummies that they used them as locomotive fuel."
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Discover Magazine, 2006

The companies didn't think of kas whimpering, "Woe,"
when the bodies where they'd meant to spend eternity
dispersed into the desert wind. Nor did the companies care

how many children weren't conceived because workmen
pictured their wives among the desecrated dead—
how many woke, shuddering, at night, imagining

the gaping mouth; the yellow, glaring teeth;
the mummy stench. Those were not days (except
in print) for tender sensibilities. Mobs howled

for hangings. Corpses cluttered the streets
in that time of White Man's Burden—of Drag
the Wogs to Western Ways, and Make Them Pay.

So to the flames the mummies went. Earth
spewed them forth, plentiful as passenger pigeons,
common as the cod that clogged Atlantic seas. 

No fear the supply would ever end. No need
to save for tomorrow mummies abundant as air,
mummies good for turning water into steam

to drive the great iron trains that dragged
behind them, in an endless chain of black, shrieking cars,
the Modern Age.

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Charles Harper Webb's latest book is Shadow Ball: New and Selected Poems. A new book, What Things Are Made Of, is forthcoming in 2013. He teaches in the creative writing program at California State University, Long Beach.

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