The noise made by the 60,000 caged birds was tremendous
but the stench which hovered in the air
was strong enough to change the weather.
60,000 Ibises lived in the necropolis,
flapping wings, clacking beaks and screeching.
All of them were unaware they were being raised solely for sacrifice.
The line of the pharaohs had grown weak and fallen,
replaced by a series of foreign invaders and warlords.
The kingdoms of Egypt were in chaos.
No more could the pharaohs intervene in heaven on the people’s behalf.
The people were forced to supplicate the gods on their own.
They sacrificed living animals and paid priests
to bestow gifts and prayers upon the mummified remains.
In ancient Egyptian philosophy
there were no words to differentiate between human and animal –
all living beings had souls.
The cats were arranged, standing on two legs,
forelegs crossed against their chest the same as humans.
One pharaoh had been buried with a hunting dog
and another pharaoh had a favorite feline
who was kept closer to him in the afterworld
than any of his many wives.
By far the most popular animal mummies were the ibises
representing Thoth the scribe god,
who was keeping a list and checking it twice
keeping track of who was naughty or nice.
At the necropolis of Saqqara over four million ibis mummies were buried.
I was walking along the river
banks of reeds crowding the shore,
the ruins of ancient pyramids atop the hill,
when suddenly my approaching footsteps
startled scores of herons and cranes,
giant winged birds rising into the air all at once,
flying this way and that as if
the sky is suddenly full of prayers,
wishes and dreams scattering every which way
filling the horizon like the colors of a sunset.