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To set all four paws on an upturned tub
and not topple over was as much as I could manage
even when I still strode into battle with my lord Ramses.
Mite-ridden then, raw with mange,
I became a mascot for Amenhotep,
no less integral to his ménage
than any of the menagerie lounging on the ramps.
The sawdust-stuffed baboons were known to munch
on peaches by the bushel, so their urine
was notably high in cyanide.
After a last ration of beer flavoured with aniseed
I was set down between a giraffe and a rhino.
My face was recasting itself from the one I’d been assigned
to the face of a pharaoh from the Fourth Dynasty.
My face was the face on the royal sarcophagus
I’d guarded for many an age, my haunch the lion-haunch
of the sun-god, Sekhmet.
All I had to go on was the hunch
that if I could but focus
on the task I might eventually will the hinge
of my knee to move. I’d already consulted the schemata
of the necropolis so was able to inch
past the pyramids,
then make my way through thorn forests,
the arid patches, grassy plains . . .
Now I’ve followed those trademark red triangles on beer mats
to a sawdust ring where nightly I’m forced
to set all four paws on an upturned tub and hold my balance.
From ‘Frolic and Detour’ (Faber, RRP£14.99)
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