Maybe men labored under a yellow sky
bent under barley sheaves they’d cut,
returned behind limestone walls and leaned
to splash water on each other at the well.
You can see its crumbling curve today, in one
city as old when Cheops' pyramid was built
as pyramids are to us right now.
Jericho, not so far away from Egypt and,
our archaeologists tell us, likely really didn’t hear
the blare of Joshua’s trumpets shuddering down
old Canaan-cursed by-Noah, coaxing walls
to shudder, teeter, list from Israelite raids.
You see one barley-bearer shaking dry,
descend stair-tunnels to his flat to kneel
before his hungry daughter, hungry wife,
waiting for evening’s barley bread to cool.
He joins as they resume their business of the day
to gently set the cowrie eyes in Grandma’s face,
two priests removed the rest of her last year,
but left the precious head to decompose at home
scented in the wall with sweet Netufian herbs,
And now the family gathers near small fire,
desert nightbreeze filtering through the cracks
tenderly to soften Mother’s bony head
with daubs of plaster re-create her nose,
and gaping eye sockets, softening too
those black orbits with white plaster.
Slowly her death’s head touched tenderly
by younger finger tips becomes
something like a human head again,
If not quite living, cowrie shells complete
this vision of a vacant queenly stare
befits a family shrine. When things are done,
small granddaughter now squeals with delight
her own dark eyes reflect the fire-light.
shiels/18 may 2015
By about 7000 BC Jericho, based on a natural spring, had developed into a large settlement which may have contained as many as two thousand individuals, and was defended by a substantial wall. The dead were often buried beneath the floors of houses. In some instances the bodies were complete, but in others the skull was removed and treated separately, with the ****** features reconstructed in plaster. British Museum exhibit plate