The Grave Robber...A Poem



Two thousand years ago, he robbed a tomb; digging

by night through layered earth, removed the fitted stones,

filled his sack with gold, rubies, lapis lazuli.


Living for the ever faithless moment, he stole

for food, for wine, for shifty women, shiftless self.

It was his nature, his need, his way...the world's way.

He was just making a living like the royal,

recumbent king or queen who, by their ancient death,

allowed an income of his own. He did not cringe

at taking rings from parchment fingers, necklaces

and amulets on gilded rib cage, vertebrae.


No thought occurred that what he stole from would, one day,

be himself, in a time too soon, become old bones;

his burial site, a rudely scraped hole, shallow,

forgotten but by teeming creatures of the soil

seeking, in turn, their satisfaction. But the rich

receive, provide special options; so are we made.

Each man looks out for himself, somewhere finds raiment

thick with threaded gold. Why can't a poor man today

profit from yesterday's wealth, lives lived in luxury?

Let them pay back, in death, the man of poverty

so far below their class, dismissed by them in life,

that finds their final resting place. Who cares? Do they?


Anthropologists say they search for art, objects

of timeless beauty, historical reminders

of eras passed that tell of lives, styles of living,

from which we may learn of ourselves, attempt to solve

our own conundrum. Preserve them in museums,

repositories, shining relics, studied, viewed

by scholars, the public, which wouldn't mind having,

covet, crowns and coronets, scepters, golden staffs,

so resplendent with precious jewels, converted

to cash in bank accounts, should opportunity

confirm devious our robber of old.


He took fine vessels filled with goods for the journey

to life beyond; poured out faint unguents and sweetmeats,

shriveled tidbits still unused from that great distance,

but by slow, swift time. Shook them out, spread them about,

to pocket a piece of jewelry that might be there.

If pots proved stubborn in removal, he shattered

them with a dexterous blow, scattered shards mixing

with objects of desire. He plucked plunder from carnage,

careful not to cut his fingers on the broken past.


No disturbance of sacred dead was too extreme

to be quite sure all gold and gems had been retrieved.

Exquisite paintings and mosaics, the glory

of the chamber walls, were ignored, of course. Culture,

story, legend, myth are not the salient point.

Who cares about color, beauty,

that tells the measure of our souls, unless it be

the chroma of riches, sensual, seductive.


But the corpse, devoutly laid in age'd linen,

could not be ignored. It was brusquely thrust aside

by rummaging search, antique attic must and mold

upheaved by eager, antic quest, tossed wide in piles,

humdrum bits and pieces, tumble of dry decay

amidst which the gleam of value might be perceived.


The flickering lantern of the thorough searcher

angled rays of light, deep zones of shifting shadow.

Figures of paint and tessera glinted and glowed,

seemed to breathe, to smile, move, as if brought back to life

after thousands of years by this abrupt invasion.

No one had seen them, in the loneliness of death, known

they were there, knew of their existence. They had not

seen themselves and each other for millennia

until the lamp was lit, no matter the motive

for illumination. They were gladly alive

once more, grateful for the radiance of the world.


Once again, they appeared intent upon their lives,

their duties in full service to their lord, in life

and in eternity, now an adaptation

to death's disarray by theft, sad, crude intrusion

of greedy, future worlds undreamed, unimagined

by shocked beholders of belief, past principle,

inhabitants of minds long emptied of their thought.

An assault on the order of power, now gone;

courtly affairs, domesticity, dignity

of the death-fearing, heaven-hoping human heart.


Depending on circumstance, and whether he thinks

the crypt may be worthy of another sortie

-- there may be more bounty, more booty to be found --

the grave thief covers his tracks, carefully closes,

disguises the grey tomb's canted entrance, removes

traces of his presence, at least to outer eyes;

or leaves outside the chaos inside in darkness,

his violation for all men and gods to see.


What, in turning worlds, was the stealer's destiny,

eons disappeared, with hardly a monument

like that he robbed? No proof he even existed,

in the balancing of accounts, beyond his own

lost bones, scavenger gnawed by fox, mouse, bacterium,

much like his life, in greedy need ordained by God,

by the rules of existence defining our world.

Did he have an after-life, any more or less

than king and queen; did God treat him well? Or, does he

twist and simmer in cosmic payment overblown?

Does post-mortem punishment fit his little crime?


Life, its way, the way God made it, can't help but be

morally shabby. Consider grim nature's law...

hardship, mental anguish, fatigue of body, dirt;

cruelty, disease, duress; necessity, pain, death;

equivalents of man's lust for money, evil,

expedient deceit, scoundrel hypocrisy.

Religion, man's wholesome, feeble, corrupt attempt,

to seek, reach out for, counter, God's reality,

desirous, rejected, ambivalent, still-born

in futility, contradiction, helplessness.


So, king, queen, robber of graves make their best of lives,

moral, immoral by the standards of our mind.

But, when survival is at issue, acts are done.

Who, then, will judge, having themselves not fallen beneath

the mark established by conscience and ancient dreams

of society for a world of better men?

If not murder or destruction of holiness,

all things revered, then what is the weight of smaller sins?


Ruled by hubris, enshrined in feral transience,

we cavil and splutter through life, believe we are gods,

omniscient, with blinkered wisdom from the playpen

of our petty thrones. Despite all, yet are we called,

have the right, the obligation, to see, to think,

to judge. Whatever our flaws, God has given us

the means to assess for ourselves, free from restraint

by any institution, individual,

interest, the warp and woof of man and the world.

God has bequeathed feelings and a brain, expecting

they be honestly used, diligently, within

our arena of admitted limitations;

have discipline, passion, clarity; substance, depth

of searching exploration, insight, focused thought.


Understand...we are the king, queen, robber of graves.





Copyright by Don Gray


Don Gray Art  •  Poems