Lyn Lifshin

Lyn Lifshin

Lyn Lifshin has written more than 125 books and edited 4 anthologies of women writers. Her poems have appeared in most poetry and literary magazines in the U.S.A. and her work has been included in virtually every major anthology of recent writing by women. Her poem “No More Apologizing” has been called “among the most impressive documents of the women’s poetry movement” by Alicia Ostriker.

Lyn has given numerous readings across the U.S.A. and also taught poetry and prose writing for many years at universities, colleges and high schools, and has been Poet in Residence at the University of Rochester, Antioch and Colorado Mountain College.

Winner of numerous awards including the Jack Kerouac Award for her book Kiss The Skin Off. Lyn is also the subject of the documentary film Lyn Lifshin: Not Made of Glass. She has been praised by Robert Frost, Ken Kesey and Richard Eberhart, and Ed Sanders has seen her as “a modern Emily Dickinson.”

Lyn Lifshin’s prizewinning book (Paterson Poetry Award) Before It’s Light was published 1999 – 2000 by Black Sparrow Press, following their publication of Cold Comfort in 1997. Texas Review Press published her prize winning book of poems about the famous, short lived beautiful race horse, Ruffian in 2006: The Licorice Daughter: My Year With Ruffian. Another Woman who Looks Like Me was published by Black Sparrow-David Godine in October 2006.

Other books: A New Film about a Woman in Love with the Dead, Marilyn Monroe, When a Cat Dies, Another Woman’s Story, Barbie Poems, The Daughter I Don’t Have, What Matters Most, Blue Tattoo, Mirrors, August Wind, Novemberly, 92 Rapple Drive, Desire, All The Poets Who Have Touched Me, Living and Dead: All True, Especially the Lies and Tsunami. Other writings include a book about the courageous and riveting race horse, Barbaro: Beyond Brokenness from Texas Review Press, Nutley Pond from Goose River Press, Lost in the Fog from Finishing Line Press and Persephone from Red Hen.

In spring 2012, NYQ books will publish A Girl Goes into The Woods. Also coming is For the Roses, poems after Joni Mitchell.

For interviews, photographs, more bio material, reviews, prose, samples of work and more, please visit her web site: www.lynlifshin.com

 
NEFERTITI

I imagine her sliding
silk over her
perfect arms, the
Egyptian sun’s mouth
even at dawn
moving over her,
licking her
tawny skin. Beads
circle her long neck
as who knows
how many ardent
worshippers dream
their fingers might do,
wake up shaking
with fear and
desire. Eyes like no
other eyes, not
even Elizabeth Taylor’s,
mahogany jewels,
hypnotic, entrancing,
a gaze so intense
no one needs
to tell you, as her
name itself
does, the
beautiful one

 
SHE SLIDES

green silk over
her bronze, almost
golden body. Hot
Egyptian light.
How could she
know years later
young girls would
put necklaces on
her statue, lightly
scented candles
and incense. Or
worry, breaking
the snake off a
model of Tut’s head-
dress that they
will get a mummy
curse. I think of
Nefertiti, a pale
yellow sky beyond
the palace, pyramids
reflected in still
pools by dawn. She
watches the night
sand begin to
glow, the lavender
shadows, twists
her ebony river of
hair into carved
tortoise shell combs
studded with
alabaster. Near the
canopied bed,
eyes as gorgeous,
if not as exquisite
as hers, the cat
she knows, since
cats dream in
Egypt, has visions
she will, as the
day unfolds,
try to guess

 
NEFERTITI AS AMERICA’S TOP MODEL

I think of her trying
to win that spot, be
on the cover of
Seventeen and win
a Cover Girl contract.
When Bill Clinton
said he’d like to
ask the Peruvian
Ice Mummy out for
lunch, shouldn’t
Nefertiti, with her
gorgeous skin,
beautifully bronze
as Tara Bank’s
and even sharing
Tara’s so enormous,
stunning, magic eyes,
do as well? Name
another beauty who
has riveted so
many thru time?
Her long slender neck,
lips more haunting,
more luscious
than Mona Lisa?
You know she
would follow the
rules, would
not fight with the
other girls but
keep her dignity. Her
long legs and
small breasts, her
knack for high
fashion and she has
own gorgeous
jewels. How could
Tara, how could
any of the judges resist
her lustrous hair,
sun touched
or frizzed and who
would not kill for
her cheekbones?

 
SITTING ON HER HUSBAND’S KNEES

maybe whispering his
name, bird names, the
names of flowers.
Look, her long swan
neck, gorgeous as
any goddess. And
those cheek bones,
glistening. She made
her own creams
from the Galena
plants in the garden.
Behind those
huge eyes, names of
spells and hexes,
names of children
coiled in her dreams.
Children with her
hypnotic eyes,
children who would
rule and in their
last hours call
her name out across
the desert

 
WHEN I READ HOW KING AKHENATON’S

love for Nefertiti is seen
in hieroglyphs at Amara.
“Fair of face,” he says
and adorned with double
plumes. I think of how
he must have dreamt of
holding her, called her
love names of course in
reality, he never could.
Delicious names, too
secret, maybe the names
of flowers that only open
in the east. Maybe he
thought of her in darkness,
could almost smell her
hair, shudder at all
the men wild to
hold her

 
DID THE KING SHUDDER, KNOWING HOW MANY MEN WANTED HER

Did he imagine other
tongues on her lips?
Their kisses falling
over her perfect
body like stars?

But instead, knelt
before her and wrote
of how the king
rejoices at her

voice, how he
hopes she may
live for ever
and always

 
NEFERTITI

in images, a fertility
symbol often with
her six daughters.
She wears the same
fashions as images
of the gods. From
the palace, little
boats with sails
flutter like flower
petals. Does she
imagine escaping?
Imagine life far from
this new capitol.
The king at her side,
the smell of the Nile.
So much beginning.
Aketaten dedicated
to the royal couple’s
new religion where
she would reign,
strong and powerful,
startlingly in her
new tight clinging
robe tied with a red
sash with the ends
hanging in front.
Did she worry, fear
her beauty fading?
That she might
lose the hypnotic
power she held?
Or did she luxuriate
in her Nub can wig,
plaited with a queens’
strands, secured by
a diadem and then
the crown with
plumes on a disc.
Did she imagine
nights she would
call out her
new daughter’s
name like a pain cry,
a tombstone she
would not
say again

 
NEFERTITI

I think of Nefertiti
in her bracelet of
six girls. Who’d
imagine her
striking a female
captive on a royal
barge. She looks
so motherly. Her
long swan neck
seems made for
gold bracelets and
babies’ arms.
Think of her in
her mortar shaped
cap, her leonine
aspect, catlike
as a sphinx, a mauve
sky behind her.
Her girls, a
sea of love. The
name for a boy child
like an animal
that won’t sleep

 
NEFERTITI

beautiful as Isis.
The king chose her
image to be engraved
in the 4 corners of
his sarcophagus to
protect his mummy

Carvings show them
kissing in a braid of
their daughters. You
can imagine each of
them praying to keep
the others safe even

as corn bloomed in
the desert, shadows
rose as her cheek
bones and sadness
seemed so far away

 
NEFERTITI

I think of her long bones,
enormous dark lake
eyes, that she would be
a beautiful ballerina,
pale with that long
swan neck. You can’t
imagine her not having
beautiful perfect fingers.
Were there days, looking
out at the flood plain,
the rich black soil
and the Nile rapids,
she imagined herself free
as the sparkling water
under the blue cloudless
sky, her feet tracing
hieroglyphs, a last
S.O.S

 
I THINK OF NERFERTITI’S DAYS BEFORE HER SIX GIRLS

gold circling her body,
plentiful as the lush
palms, the river of
gold, silver and
turquoise fish. Did she
feel lucky, a man who
loved but also respected
her, included women
as he ruled? The
sky, cloudless, this time
of no war, smooth
as her skin and
the silk wrapping her
gorgeous body, a
freeze frame of beauty.
Her swan like neck,
eyes even Elizabeth Taylor
would have yearned for.
Poets wrote her praises
on papyrus, played
songs to her on
mahogany lutes. Ivory
statues of her favorite cats
gleam in the light.
Wine no one can still
imagine the taste
on her lips, she waited
for her babies in the
glow of the hot Egyptian
light. Grapes, figs
and dates in a silver bowl,
tubers, leaves and
seeds in a basket of
copper, she spent afternoons
boating, nights of music
and board games
long before she had to
write letters to the
dead and what was to
unroll started
unrolling

 
THINK OF NEFERTITI

too beautiful to
describe. Her name
for years, chiseled off
monuments, her face
defaced on statues,
her city razed to
earth, its bricks
stolen and carried
off like burned
manuscripts. Think
how those chisels were
not able to disfigure
everything, how
border stele in remote
areas survived the
destructive fury.
Clay tablet letters
written to foreign
capitols also escaped
the censor’s knife
and archeologists began
to read these scattered
messages and filled
in the empty spaces on
monuments in Thebes and
Karnack. Today Akhenaten
is considered one of the
most remarkable
personalities, a man ahead
of his time. And
Nefertiti, was she
as beautiful as the epithets
claimed? Did she share
his vision? I think of
the first person to
lay eyes on Nefertiti’s face
in 3300 years. On Dec
6, 1912, he was digging in
a garden when the rays
of sun lit up the gold
and blue colors of
the queen’s necklace. A
shout brought all picks
and shovels to a standstill.
One professor was sent
for from his makeshift
hut where he slept
after his mid day meal.
The statue lay buried,
head down, in the debris.
Once uncovered, the
sandstone figure
was in near perfect
condition. The only
visible damage are the
chipped ear lobes
and the inlay of the retina
of the left eye that was
missing. As to her beauty:
it is timeless

 
THE FIRST PERSON TO

lay eyes on Nefertiti’s face
in 3300 years. On Dec
6, 1912, he was digging in
a garden when the rays
of sun lit up the gold
and blue colors of
the queen’s necklace. A
shout brought all picks
and shovels to a standstill.
One professor was sent
for from his makeshift
hut where he slept
after his mid day meal.
The statue lay buried,
head down, in the debris.
Once uncovered, the
sandstone figure
was in near perfect
condition. The only
visible damage are the
chipped ear lobes
and the inlay of the retina
of the left eye that was
missing. As to her beauty:
it is timeless

 
WHY, MAYBE, THERE IS A FLAW IN THE GORGEOUS BUST OF NEFERTITI

the startling eyes and face,
but I think of how, when
pulled out of dirt and mud,
her ear lobes were chipped,
the retina of the left eye
was missing. I think of the
dirt she was found in, sifted
again and again thru fine
and finer mesh, how all
the ear pieces were found
but the eye inlay was
never recovered. Later
examination revealed it was
never inserted. Some say
the artist was interrupted
at his work and left the
workshop and took the
in-lay with him never to
return . Or that the
artist had fallen in love
with the queen as she posed
for him, was jilted by her
and in an impotent rage,
refused to complete
his masterwork. Some
say this is not as
far fetched as it seems,
the queen was known
to be flirtatious. Another
theory was that Nefertiti
had gone blind in one eye
and the artist and the artist
had opted for realism
over dignity. Still, the grace
ful curve of her long neck,
the arched eye brown
and the hint of a smile on
the queen’s sensual lips
is nothing like the ice glare
of traditional Egyptian
statues

 
HOW NEFFERTITI GOT HER BLUE BLACK HAIR AND DISAPPEARED

in one story, when
the purple sky was
going ink, blackness
crept over bundles
of garlic and roast
duck on a night the
donkeys were bray-
ing. The night was
still. The stars, a
glaze of rhinestones
over its skin. Tho
Nefertiti thinks of
her silks and gold,
her broaches and
wigs studded with
diamonds, she pulls
on, long before the
first sliver of light,
a man’s clothes and
went on to rule under
the name Smenkhkhare

 
EXOTIC AS THE NEFER BEADS

elongated, exquisite, gold

no one is sure where
she came from.
a foreign princess,
15, hardly more than
a child marrying a
king just a year later.
I think of her fastening
her bridal gown, that
at least she was not
a sacrifice like other
young virgins. Did she,
I wonder, look ahead,
imagine six daughters?
Imagine as some
suppose a son who
would later rule? She
could never have, I
bet, supposed many
would believe she was
that son, that boy, that
she would dress as
a man and rule when
others thought she
disappeared or maybe
was murdered. Light
on the Nile, the pale
roses against a stubble
sky. How little there
to hint at what was
ahead, only her beauty,
her full lips the sculptor
caught enhanced by
bold red eyelids and
brow outlined in black,
dark as the mysteries
surrounding her

 
IN ONE SHRINE

Nefertiti is holding one daughter
while the king kisses her and
the little girl, Meretaten, plays
on her mother’s lap, gazes up
lovingly. Ankhesenpaaten, the
smallest, sits on Nefertiti’s
shoulder and fiddles with her
earring. Think of Nefertiti in
this brief moment in their lives,
caught in an act of mutual
affection. Think how mysterious,
no son was shown in any reliefs
tho the daughter’s names are
chiseled: Meritaten, 1356 BC,
Meketaten and Ankhesenpaaten,
1349 BC, Neferneferuaten,
1344 BC, Neferneferure,1341 BC,
and Setepenre, 1339 BC, and
then the official family with all
of Nefertiti’s daughter and then in
1936 Meketaten died in child
birth. After 1335 Nefertiti seemed
to vanish. There is no trace of
her tomb. Some jewelry bearing
the cartouche was found outside
the royal tomb at Akhetaten.
No one knows if she died, was
murdered, went away in disguise.
The end of her life as mysterious
as her birth, blood, her
half smile

 
ANOTHER DEAD END

in 2003, a specialist in
ancient hair announced
Nerfertiti’s tomb may
have been found, that
maybe really she was
the Pharaoh Smenkhkare.
The mummy, examined
by scans was discovered
damaged in a way that
suggested the body had
been desecrated either
at the time of death or
soon after. Mummification
techniques such as the
use of embalming fluid
and the presence of an
intact brain suggest
a royal mummy. The age
of the body, the presence
of embedded nefer beads,
the fact that the arm had
been buried in the position
reserved for Pharaohs
and had been snapped off
by vandals and replaced
with another arm in a normal
position and a wig, a unique
style worn by Nefertiti,
all seemed clues. But later
the head of Egypt’s Council
for Antiquity dismissed the
claim: not enough evidence.
And a month or two later
the one in charge of the
exploration said “I’m sure
this mummy is not a female”

 
PERPETUAL AROUSAL: SHE DRESSED FOR APPEAL

someone says and if she
fullfilled a similar
function as God’s wife
in the Amarna religion,
part of this responsibility
would have been to
maintain a state of
perpetual arousal. Reliefs
show this and the praises
for her “joining with her
beauty in propitiating
the world with her sweet
voice and her fair hands
holding the vases for plums”

 
NEFERTITI

gazing out at Thebes,
the Nile, a smooth
cobalt ribbon, lush
palms and orchids,
a thick green and
black soil. She is
calm and still
posing for the
sculptor who will
make her immortal.
He has studied
her, has almost
tasted her luscious
neck, amazing lips
he will paint and
remember redder than
than any red lips
could be. Maybe she
is drifting in thoughts
of the newest baby
swelling beneath
her silk. She wears
gold neffer beads
she knows, even so
young, she will be
buried with. Is her
slight smile for
the painter? Has she
fantasy of his long
fingers on her skin?
Peacock feathers
catch the slight
breeze, sway in
vases etched with
ostriches, boats and
geometrical designs.
The heat lulls like
a lover’s touch. If only
this child is a boy.
She imagines statues
of him, hieroglyphs
of his name in
elaborate underground
burial chambers. But
for now, these sprawling
temples can wait. She is
watching the beauty
of her long swan neck
emerge from stone, feels
her body, lush as the land-
scape, lapis, gold and
ivory circling her tawny
skin like the world
that loves her

 
WHILE SHE POSES

in a gold chair like
a throne, days at
the window, her face
illuminated, her
eyes illuminating
does she know she
will appear in twice
as many scenes as
her husband? Or
that years after she
is the flesh and full
lipped beauty gazing
as farmers pick flax
and barley, papyrus
and melons as she
strokes a cat with eyes
huge and almond
shaped as hers that
rubs against her
tawny skin, nothing
will be as she dreams.
She will always
be “The Beautiful
One,” and because
so little is known
about her, the world
will be starved
for more

 
HOURS POSING FOR THE SCULPTURE

her skin damp in
the hot Egyptian light,
her breasts pushed
against silk and
necklaces of gold and
Egyptian freeze glass.
Her daughter’s
laughter in the
distance, slap of the
Nile on a blue boat.
Does she remember a
mother who called
her Darling. A
bride before 15, and
then, her first child when
she was still one. Now,
in a bracelet of
young girls and the
king’s love like a flower
that keeps unfolding,
her body glows like her
eyes and smile, her
skin barely can
barely keep her inside

 
THOSE DAYS POSING FOR THE ARTIST

pyramids in the distance.
Did Nefertiti ever dream
of her last home in the
plush death cave with
gold and jasper and
jasmine burning? How
could anyone whose
beauty captured all the
breath, the attention in
Themes not dream it
wouldn’t always? That
life like beauty radiating
from that bust of lime
stone and plaster
must have made her
wonder what else when
it was gone. She must
have day dreamed
hours in the hot Egyptian
afternoons as flowers
that bloomed only once
in a life time opened
and closed. I think of the
hands stroking and
chipping at the plaster,
imagining what he pulled
into a life that would
go on forever was
the warm body so near
him as he smoothed a soft
brown color on the face
and neck of the bust,
as close to skin
as he could make it and
painted her lips so
calm and red, making the
mouth soft, sensuous
then outlining eyebrows
and eyes with black.
Then he painted
her hair a blue rich as the
Nile, giving her the wildest
power and beauty of
rain forests with
painted jewelry in
her hair and around that
gorgeous neck, blue,
green and gold,
exotic, entrancing,
something no
one has a name for

 
THE BEAUTIFUL ONE HAS COME

and left mysteriously,
as with her birth.
So many coffins but
no sign of Nefertiti,
no sign of the six
princesses she bore.
In one tomb, many
ceramic jars and
several wooden
coffins with yellow
painted faces but
no mummies. But
in the eyes of the
painted faces, a link
to Nefertiti whose
name means “the
beautiful one has
come.” No one knows
who the coffins are
for but the eyes are
exotic. If not a royal
tomb, what? Seven
coffins, a small gilt
coffinette, two large
alabaster vessels,
floral garlands,
pillows, Natron, the
natural salt used in
mummification, and
many ceramics,
fragments of gold,
eerie, mysterious as
a song there are
no words for

 
NEFERTITI POSING HOURS WITH THE NILE AS A BACK DROP

she could smell sun
on her skin. Hours
gazing into the
distance. Maybe a
favorite cat’s fur
rubbed her tawny
skin. A daughter
singing in the
distance, maybe
playing a lute in the
shade of the date
tree. Those hours,
sitting so quietly.
Did she wonder
how her likeness
would be used?
In a temple or
tomb? Or on some
textile? Would it
be wrapped in her
mummy folds
with amulets and
beads? And if she
lived past her beauty,
would she be
discarded? Maybe
abandoned if the
new baby swelling
under her silk wasn’t
a boy? I think of
her in the papyrus
and barley wind,
in the glow of
her king’s love and
honor, a woman
with power not just
the most worshipped
and beautiful
and loved as she
hopes she will be in
the after life if
nothing goes wrong

 
AFTERNOONS, ALONE IN THE TEMPLE FOR HOURS

I imagine Nefertiti thinking
of what she’d want in the
rooms of her last home,
in her temples and tombs,
can picture her planning
carved and brightly painted
beams and of course the
sun would be at the perfect
angle so it would rise in
the morning and pass over
the entrance to the temple.
She would want a tomb fit
for gods, painted decorations
of the cosmos and after
life, pottery vessels and gold
furniture. For her pleasure
in this life, epic stories
about wandering heroes,
tales of pharaohs, magicians,
books on etiquette and comic
stories about deities. The
Egyptians wrote political
propaganda, what may have
been the world’s first fairy
tales. Nefertiti must have loved
the seductive love poetry,
dramas and would have smiled
thinking about the performances
that accompanied some burials.
And tho no music survives, I can
imagine her fingers stroking
musical instruments included
in several burials and depicted
on walls of the tombs, and singing
a little lullaby she can imagine
harps and flutes singing to
her for this last sleep

 
NEFERTITI ON A NIGHT SHE COULDN’T SLEEP

listening to night
birds on the Nile.
Wind in the barley.
Stars like glow
lights in the sand.
Gold and white
camellias. Amethyst
at her finger tips.
Someone to play
the lute. Someone
to sing to her six
children. Feldspar
and galena for
cosmetics, her
husband for love
and power, some
one to keep her
safe and her beauty
like a cape of
jewels no one
could buy or trade
in Canaan, Syra
or Mesopotamia
for this moment,
this time

 
MAYBE WHY THERE IS A FLAW IN THE GORGEOUS BUST OF NEFERTITI

the startling eyes and face,
but I think of how, when
pulled out of dirt and mud,
her ear lobes were chipped,
the retina of the left eye
was missing. I think of the
dirt she was found in, sifted
again and again thru fine
and finer mesh, how all
the ear pieces were found
but the eye inlay was
never recovered. Later
examination revealed it was
never inserted. Some say
the artist was interrupted
at his work and left the
workshop and took the
in-lay with him never to
return

 
For other contributions by Lyn Lifshin, please follow the links below:

 
All poems on this post: © Lyn Lifshin
Published with the permission of Lyn Lifshin