While we lived in Pennsylvania, I took my middle school daughter to see the King Tut's Exhibit. We paid a pretty penny to wander for an hour among gilt sarcophagi and intricate jewelry. Within a few minutes, Layla raced ahead of me, bored as myself but so childlike she didn't care to get her money's worth.
Take away the glittering neon and the homage to the Pharoah felt a bit like our visit to Times Square. Oh, look at what rich people stock pile. Look what happens to it after they die. Meh. I lingered to get my money's worth, like a girl trying to savor a six-dollar slice of cheesecake while the scent of NY trash wafts by.
Not that the Tut exhibit smelled of dust. But there was no head-heart connection. I couldn't conjure the wonder at what the powerful do with their wealth. Only one piece impassioned me. Without the Nubian staff to snag my imagination, I might have felt like any children's museum in the country had as good a replica.
That Nubian girl, fashioned at the curve of the staff head, fluttered in my sensations. I had a kind of synethesia in the back of my head. She looked first like a dancer or mermaid splashing with such perfect grace, such beauty in her back bend. She was in a copper dress. Her shoulders squared. She was anguishingly slender, beautiful to behold and the longer I admired her the greater my confusion of pain and sweetness. The perfect curve from crown of her noble head, her brow, her nose, her lips, that chin, all more lovely than I remembered Barbies and ballerina dancers, I stared until she became the truth and horror. She looked without looking. She hides pain behind beauty and pride. Tut had bent her to breaking. She held hands behind her shoulder blades and copper links hind her upper arms. Her hands were turned back, Her thumbs she folded as if her muscles seized. Powerless.
The sign said Tut had this staff fashioned to show he'd bent the backs of the noble race of Nubians who marched against him. He destroyed their dignity by making them his slaves and bending them to breaking. Because he wished it. Because he had the power.
I began to cry as I cry. Not sobs. Not weeping. A mere swollen eye. Burning salt. A wounding. Looking up on her pain felt like seeing myself as I felt doing my job.
She was my poetry. The metaphor of me. I would have broken the glass in a fantasy, stolen her, taken her to a farrier and begged him to give her enough warm to be made straight again. I could no more straighten her than I can or have straightened me. I am still such a slave.