“Mummies” by Richard Hedderman

Richard Hedderman


Milwaukee Public Museum

When children ask if it’s frightening
when they come alive, I tell them yes,
of course it is, it’s absolutely terrifying,
and believe me, you don’t want to be around

when it happens, especially at night.
When they ask if the mummies walk
with their arms outstretched like mummies
in the movies, I tell them no, it’s nothing

like that. You see, I explain, the muscles
of their arms have atrophied from thousands
of years of disuse; they just can’t walk
around the way mummies do in movies.

In fact, I explain, their feet have been so
lovingly and carefully bound by strips
of flax linen, that it’s difficult for them
to walk at all, which explains the halting gait,

the fear that at any moment they will stumble
and pitch forward, landing in a heap of rags.
Can they talk? No, they can’t talk, not after
all those years in tombs choked with the dust

of centuries and the weight of eternity
upon them. Can they see, they want to know.
Not any more, I say, for long ago
their eyes were replaced with onions or stones,

stones as white as the sun. Finally, I explain,
they long only to wander forth as they used to,
and once again admire their reflections
in the shimmering Nile of the gallery floor.

from Rattle #49, Fall 2015
Tribute to Scientists


Richard Hedderman: “I’m not formally trained as a scientist, but have spent two decades working in science and natural history museums, experiences that have inspired a good number of my poems. These places are extraordinarily rich environments for poets. Among my many museum adventures, I’ve created lightning, worked with bobcats and great horned owls and spent plenty of time around Egyptian mummies. Where I am now, at the Milwaukee Public Museum, we’re the only venue in the upper Midwest outside of Chicago exhibiting mummies. So a good deal of the programming I’m involved with focuses on them. My poem, ‘Mummies,’ is based on questions I’ve heard from students visiting the museum.”

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