Thomas Hoffman – Charles Demuth “My Egypt” (1927)



Lincoln’s autumn in 1970 stands out due to one exceptional occurrence that October. On October 9th, 1970, Lincoln received an unmatched 6.6 inches of snow, which is the city’s heaviest, earliest snowfall. That autumn still managed an average temperature of 52.3°, but led into a white winter which ranks #5 on Lincoln’s list of snowiest winters.

The Rosetta Stone, which became the key to translating ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, was found on July 15th, 1799, in Rosetta, Egypt, by a French officer during Napoleon’s Egyptian Campaign. This poem by Thomas Hoffman, published in the fall issue of the Prairie Schooner in 1970, pays tribute to that momentous day in history.

by Tory Clower


Thomas Hoffman

Charles Demuth
“My Egypt” (1927)

The grain elevator stands white in the blue beams of the sunlight
Massive as the knees of Memnon.
But how, Charlie, can this be Egypt?
Is it in irony that you called this white mass,
Which dominates the landscape of commerce as the tombs
Once dominated a landscape of timelessness, Egypt?
Or did you mean it as the poet who would not go to Rome
Since Rome was in his mind?
How can this be Egypt?
The farm trucks that sputter up the street
Aren’t drawn by noble steeds.
The houses white and of wood do not
Face the Mediterranean breeze, and
There are elms, but no palms.
The boys of this oasis on the prairie
Have the blond hair of Saxons and do not
Line their eyes.
In the popcorn-scented gloom of the movies
The ladies mourn for Valentino.
The grain showers into the deep urns of darkness
Dusty and golden.

In the cemetery Miss Nefertiti Simmons, great lady,
Rests in her vault of concrete angels.
Uncle Lou, the liar and bachelor, has no stone at all.
Johnny Garnet, drowned in the reservoir two weeks past,
Rests in silk and cosmetics, his life a finished poem
Written in red granite like the boasts of Ramses
Among the graves of the infants.
Oh, Nefertiti Simmons walked her hard-wood floors
Wearing a cataract over one blue eye,
And Johnny Garnet, now swaddled like a jewel,
Had a face and fingers and toes wrapped in the cruel gold-foil of youth
Like those of little Tut.
Yet, Egypt is behind us.
“We are free,” say the slaves to the sky.
“There are no more kings,
There are no more gods,” say
The little slaves to the sky.