King Merneptah’s Hands – Maev Barba

It is not feasible after a battle to make soldiers count. 

It is not feasible to make a scribe wander aimlessly through a battlefield.

Soldiers cut hands off the bodies, one hand per body, and arrange them in a grid for scribes to tally. 

Two hands; two dead. Five hands; five dead. A thousand hands; a thousand dead.

Rows and columns of hands thumb-to-pinky and tip-to-heel. 

Three-hundred hands widthwise, two-hundred hands length: altogether, six thousand men dead. 

Merneptah’s men piled the hands in carts and rolled them back to Memphis.  

Entering through white gates of stone, hands trembling in their carts, the soldier’s wives came picking through the fingers. 

How do we know you’ve won a war and that these are not the hands of other wives?

Merneptah ordered his men to stop. They upended their carts and hands spilled out into the streets.

Then they turned around and marched back to the battlefield.

Finally, by nightfall, they returned, carts not trembling with hands, but jiggling with penises.

Dr. Maev Barba attended the Puget Sound Writer’s Conference in 2018. She is a PNW native and a great lover of books. She used to sell books door-to-door. A doctor of astronomy, Barba looks into space and considers neither the small as too little, nor the large as too great, for the lover of stars knows there is no limit to dimension.

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