Concerning a Crushed Temple


Case XXII from the Edwin Smith Papyrus, a surgical treatise c. ~1700 BCE

The ancient word for “crush”
can be translated as split or shatter,

even perforate. Puncture. In this case,
any variation still means a grave

wound inflicted on the side of a skull.
The author states that if a person suffers

from a crushed temple, the nostrils and ears
will discharge their blood. The person becomes

speechless. When archeologists unearthed
Younger Lady’s mummy in the tomb of Amenhotep II,

everyone thought she was a royal woman, possibly
a king’s daughter. She must have been beautiful,

people said, except, of course, she’s been dead
over three millennia and half her head’s

destroyed. In photos, it’s obvious
that you could, if you wanted to, look through

her gashed-open face straight
into the rupture of her brain. And if,

as scholars say, her terrible injury happened
before death, there remain no words

to describe the unmistakable sound
of impact, when a body follows its head

to the ground. In her halo of blood,
who knows whether she had time to beg?

This might be why, before poetry
came of age, people carved

animal-faced gods
into granite: shadows

of men and women perfected
by centuries of grief, fierce

lion- and hawk-headed bodies to carry
all we cannot speak.

M. Cynthia Cheung