Building the Pyramids

The white gaze of Ra bakes us from the blue above,
It glosses our backs and brows with salted water.
But we are the favored sons of the Black Land,
Sculpted from dark silt by the hand of Ptah.
So unlike those Babylonians in their woolen robes,
We from the Nile shores can take a little sun.

We stretch our muscles and crackle our bones,
We scrape our palms pulling the rough rope.
The blocks we drag up outweigh the hippos,
The ramps we ascend wind towards the heavens.
We sing and chant to wash away the stress,
The drummers provide the beats by our side.

Our hair may grow out into balls or dreadlocks,
Our loincloths may be stained with sweat and worse.
Dust and sand may paint our ankles white,
Our feet may have toughened like the rhino’s hide.
The strain has built muscles on our arms,
Think of it as working out while you work.

Men with spears march along to prod slackers,
Either with cold copper or heated threats.
But despite what you might have heard,
We are farmers and masons instead of slaves.
Pharaoh needs us to help him rejoin the gods,
And we need him to help water our fields.

The gaze of Ra has turned red with sleepiness,
And the heavens fade from gold to copper.
We flex our brawn and return to our huts,
Ready for beef and bread beside sweet beer.
Our children run to us with squeals of delight.
Our women will reward us with our favorite gifts.

This poem evolved from the mental image of cheerful Egyptian laborers singing “work songs” together as they dragged those huge stone blocks up the ramps to build the pyramids. Here I wanted to portray how the pyramid-builders might have viewed their task, namely as something that was grueling and physically taxing but ultimately rewarding. From what I’ve read, the Egyptians had a more optimistic outlook on life than their Mesopotamian counterparts as shown in their literature (usually chalked up to the Nile floods being more regular and predictable than their Tigris/Euphrates counterparts), and I wanted to reflect that aspect of their culture here.

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