Letter to Gwendolyn MacEwen

 

1.

 

It may be arrogant of me to say

that we should have met,

that we should have explored

ancient Egypt together,

both the archaeological remains

and the past life memories.

If it were possible,

we should have become lovers.

It would have fulfilled my fantasies.

 

But we did not meet.

Instead of talking with you,

I read your novel:

King of Egypt, King of Dreams.

 

Instead of making love to you,

I read your Cantos,

poems about ancient Egypt

as lovely as you must have been.

 

Instead of sitting down

at coffee houses with you

while you were yet alive,

I read your biography

long after you had died.

 

It was silent about your last years,

the years I lived so near you,

the years during which I heard

so much about you.

 

I feel I know you enough

to write you a letter.

The ancient Egyptians

wrote letters to their dead.

This is my letter to you.

 

2.

 

Dear Gwendolyn.

 

I am happy for you,

for by the time you realized

that your alcoholism

would kill you sooner

than any other

disease of choice,

you had the courage

and strength to stop.

 

I am sorry that

your beautiful body,

which Hathor herself

had inhabited,

gave out on you.

 

I am sad that

your mind,

which the best poets of the time

had acknowledged,

was extinguished.

 

It still pains me that

your heart,

which had encompassed so much,

which had loved so strongly,

burst under your post-alcoholic

bout of happiness.

 

You were a woman of free spirit,

of unbridled imagination

and towering talent.

You were married to men

who, I am sure, loved you,

but neither of them could stand

in the light of your burning flame.

Not for long.

 

You were not a saint.

You made mistakes

as we all do.

You believed that those people

who had touched Egypt

or who had been touched by it,

had the magic.

But they did not!

 

Itís not the land that

transmits the magic,

itís not the word ĎEgyptí,

itís the people who do,

who immerse themselves

in the ancient symbols

and writings.

 

I am one who has been

touched by Egypt

and I recognized you

as another.

That is why

I wished to be

touched by you.

Instead, my mind was

touched by your novel,

my spirit was

touchedby your poetry.

 

But you died before

you could shake my hand

or sign your book for me,

before I could hug and kiss you.

 

I am thinking of you, Gwen,
hoping you have become Isis,
flying the skies like the kite she is,
on the wings of the western wind.

 

Once I climbed the Theban cliffs
high above the Valley of the Queens.
Petrified by a swishing sound

in the deadened silence of the tombs
I cowered in a wind-carved cave.

I crawled to the edge and looked

deep into the sheer drop, down
toward the desert floor and saw
a kite flying in circles.Was it you?

 

3.

 

You see, Gwen,

I have been to Egypt,

I followed your footsteps.

I walked their temples

to commune with the

ancient soul statues,

to read the hieroglyphs,

to decipher the

symbolic art.

 

You did all that before me,

intuitively, emotionally,

with a poetic sensitivity.

I followed you intellectually,

both as a scholar and as a poet.

I worshipped at Akhenatenís

Gem-Pa-Aten temple

even as I excavated

its southwestern cornerstone.

 

You looked deeply

into the hollow eyes of

Akhenatenís colossal statue

while I contemplated

the skull of his dog

and gathered the thousand

broken pieces of his temple walls.

 

You saw the poetry in his

Great Hymn to the Aten

and I lived through the destruction

of both his temple and his religion.

 

When we returned home,

back to the streets of Toronto,

was it a flight from Egypt?

Did both of us escape the land

of our cultural and religious roots?

you, naively convinced

that its modern people

had absorbed its ancient wisdom,

and I bitterly disappointed

that they had not.

 

I find it easier to love you

than to idolize you.

I love you quietly, unobtrusively,

the way you had lived

the last few years of your life.

 

I am sure you will return,

reincarnate as some strangerís child,

you will make eyes at me

and I will say, ďOh, how cute!Ē

and you will have touched my life again

and I wonít even know it.

 

Until that day comes,

I will close this letter

and let you rest in peace.

 

Daniel Kolos

Priceville, Ontario,

June 8, 2004

written on the day when

Venus transited the Sun

revised July 27/28, 2004

corrected May 8, 2005

Published in Daniel Kolos, From One Child to Another (Shelburne, ON, 2007: The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box)