Poem: Ox Figure

By Deniz Daryaei Sarabi

When I first analysed this object it frustrated me – there was no description of its history apart from being gifted from a private collection. Ox, to my knowledge, were not a common symbol in Persia. With some research we learnt that that, in Isfahan, ox were used to carry water from mills, and that this object likely was made there before the Persian empire. My poem expresses the annoyance I felt with the lack of information on the object, and question why the ancient Middle East isn’t researched as thoroughly as ancient civilisations in the west. 

Screenshot of the Manchester Museum online catalogue entry for the ox figure. The online catalogue is no longer accessible while the Museum is in the process of moving to a new system (to be available in 2023/24)

Ox Figure

Old and blue it’s
Only now I see you.

Wondering since when were you there,
The gone by swindlers- mh.
The learned traders don’t tell me; they don’t care.

My brows knot in not knowing,
Frustration zapping, vying, to get me going.
Who made you and why?
Did they harden and cry
In their graves when they saw you stolen?
Never displayed and you cost a colon,
Not for value.
But for greed.

“Shake your anger aside girl,
Learn and let the story unfurl!”
I apologise for my passion.

In the southwest her muse carried water.
I think again, when they stole her, did they court her?
Were they gentle with her horns?
Cupping her by the hooves.
Did they pinch her tail softly?
Or with violence as often is done,
Pinching learned from childhood to cheaply hoard attention.

What of the great beasts that inspired you?
Made into a trinket so small,
Significance your people can only whisper,
Fragmented from their ghosts.
Even then not deemed vital enough to transcribe.

The tears I hold back-
Shamed by my subjectivity-
Would have gathered in the paths of this heated keyboard for your
honour, to refill the rivers you ventured.
They tell me I am done for the night.

‘Ox figure’ by Deniz Daryaei Sarabi
Figure of an Ox (Manchester Museum 1963.156). Imaging by Dr Ben Edwards, Manchester Metropolitan University

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