Pharaoh

By David Wojahn

Featured Art: The Great Pyramid, Giza by Adrien Dauzats

We had eaten the placenta in a soup that someone based on a family recipe 

for menudo, though someone else—

it was Bill, I think—joked that it tasted just like chicken. This Year’s Model 

was brand new & the needle stuck

on “Lipstick Vogue,” Costello snarling not just another mouth, not just 

another mouth, until Joe

set down the bong & flicked the tone arm forward from the scratch. 

& anyway, by this time

Amy was shouting from the bedroom that she’d finally gotten Star to sleep, 

that the music should be

Mozart or something. I’ve forgotten the midwife’s name, but she sat 

sprawled on a patio lawn chair,

the distant blink of Tucson down the mountainside. She held an iced Corona 

& told us she was too worn out

to drive the snaking foothill two-lanes home. Good dope, cheap champagne, 

a soup of afterbirth:

everybody but the midwife garrulous & now Pappagino was flapping 

birdman wings in his mating dance

around fair Pappagina. So the talk turned to duets—scholastic in the way 

that stoner conversations go.

Whose placenta was it we slurped down with cilantro & a dash of cumin, 

telling ourselves the taste

was not half bad—Amy’s or Star’s? & what about Derek, who now 

had moved to Mykonos,

leaving his storied seed behind: what portion of the recipe was owed 

to him? Now came the tricky part—

where did the soul inhere? The midwife rimmed her longneck with

a lemon slice & allowed

that we’d ingested perfection, the body’s all-in-one: liver, kidney,

 blood supply,

its vascular estuaries spidering from delta to sea, tasting not just of flesh, 

but of the corpus entire,

which we all agreed was pretty far out. Lord how I yearn sometimes 

for those days of sudden

bedazzling insight, however false & addled. My eyes went Blakean. 

By the firelight I watched

the quaking dance of souls, bi- & tri- & quadrifurcated & hovering among 

us

in a pea-soup fog,

lavish as dry ice a-swirl from a spliff. My soul, your soul, our soul.

The Oversoul broadcasting

its hundred thousand watts of Motown to the radio speakers of the whole

Southwest; Aretha Soul & Otis Soul

& Sam Cooke Soul. & Pneuma, weighing 20 grams of blazing light.

But then the tone arm

reached the aria’s end. The LP clicked off. The room became

sleeping bags & pillows,

Mexican blanket covering a ratty sofa. The parts we didn’t eat

we double-bagged

& carried to the dumpster, padlocked to confound the coyotes.

The midwife took the couch

& slept. & by the firelight the whole clan slumbered, the cavewall

throwing shadows. This was

30 years ago. Where the business of the world has taken us

I cannot say. I reboot,

the pixels gather themselves & pulse at me. I could Google Amy,

Google Star, MapQuest

Speedway Boulevard, & call up Derek’s obit from The Sentinel.

But the screen instead

coalesces to a tomb painting of Pharaoh. Lordly he walks,

preceded by his vassals,

who bear his emblems & trophies, hoisted atop tall staffs.

Among them

is Pharaoh’s placenta, preserved & flapping like an ensign.

Raised to the sky,

the crimson portal hovers in the wind. From it the God-King

fell head first into this world.


David Wojahn is the author of nine collections of poems and two volumes of essays on poetry. He teaches at Virginia Commonwealth University, and in the MFA in Writing Program of Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Originally published in NOR 6

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