On my table is a mutton tail,
a bronze knife with wolf handle, jug of khoumis,
a translucent yak horn bowl.
My six horses lie near, their coats still
that chestnut sheen. They face east
in their gilt saddles with felt cushions
stuffed with stag-hair,
bridles covered with gold leaf.
My coffin is carved from a single larch log
and curves like a cradle. Four copper nails
seal it shut, and on the sides, leather reindeer fly.
Open my lid to a block of milky white ice.
Dismayed my cocoon is opaque,
your pace slackens.
Melt me. Heat buckets with blowtorches to pour
boiling water into my casket,
cup by careful cup,
until the scent of coriander is released.
At night you dream of gouged eyes,
the sockets stuffed with fur.
Each day you stand in freezing water
as the smell of wet wool gets stronger
and you glimpse gold flecks in the ice.
Your arms move as if in trance
as I emerge from my two-thousand-year
curled on my left side,
my cheek nestled against the pillow.
Only patches of my face remain.
My hair has been shaved, a hole cut in my skull
to insert incense and pine cones
instead of a brain,
the gash sewn with sinew.
I am alone in my Tree of Life headdress
on its larch frame.
Tien Shan snow leopards, gold birds, a griffin,
perch on its branches.
A quiver and bow hang from the apex.
Pull back the marten fur blanket to view my necklace
of carved camels.
Lift the blouse from my shoulder to find flesh
tattooed a deep midnight blue -
a frieze of deer-horses with blossoming horns.
My hands are intact,
the thumbs dyed with swirling indigo antlers that break into flower
when you touch them.
The curves of my breasts are soft
as the day I was buried,
my skin yellow from tannins.
Behind my bent knees a red pouch
holds my brass mirror, horsehair brush, iron eye-pencil.
You trace long incisions in my back, belly and limbs
where my organs and muscles were removed,
peat, bark and sedge packed in their place.
That early spring, when I died young on the Pasture of Heaven
I was wearing this crimson blouse of wild silk,
this thick wool and camel hair skirt,
white felt stockings, a belt,
these still supple thigh-high riding boots to protect my skin
from chaffing against the saddle -
all made it
through the centuries unscathed.
I was preserved until the ground thawed enough
to bury me in the Altai, high up
where only ibex climb and eagles nest
so I could reach the afterlife
on the backs of my horses.
I am displayed in this museum, my clothes
and sacred ornaments on mannequins behind glass,
my body naked.
From The Rialto No 65 (Summer 2008)