It is one thing to uphold one’s passions,
another to retain them. That thin seam
between impassioned and fashion: it could be
just another form of governing,
intimacy. Who knows if sequins spiraled
around each nipple, lapis clinging to straps.
Each mouthful of wine would raise her body heat
until a touch of gold slivered and rose
off her dark skin, caught somewhere
in a jewel of sweat. This is the Egypt
I imagine: pyramids, obelisks,
the Valley of Kings, and one torn bra.
Meanwhile, the Romans fashioned their parchment,
filled it with long strings of letters: a
for ave, b for beato (blessed), c,
of course, for Caesar, with no space between,
as to appear infinite. Augustus did try.
The old argument: come home, she’s bad news.
But for Antony there would be no empire
cloven: a pregnant dream as he lay
again with her, clothes strewn on the ground
like artifacts of a forgotten city
under ash, and those two bodies caught
once more, together, for all of Rome to see.
Because it did end, Virgil says, in ruins
of a city, toppled towers, and one
fictitious Dido who let it all hang out
one Carthage summer so hot the oarsmen
gave up their fears, Acestes descended his throne
without bearskin, Aeneas loved and left,
Dido died. I like to imagine her scrawling
a message to the future regarding love—
flagrant love—and sacrificial fires
like those she clothed her city in one night:
Beware the Roman come to lie with you,
one hand heart-heavy and bound there
like the swearing-in of a city
official. Feeling her lover fiddle
with the clasp, Cleopatra must have thought,
does everything come undone with this
one small breach of virtue? One giant step
backward, she hears the inevitable
unleashing of the dogs, the centuries
head to toe in armor, and the lift,
they say, of a shallow wicker basket.
I like to imagine her calmly spreading
her robe, a leisurely cup of wine,
her fingers unclasping the bra from behind
as the asp negotiates the sea
of azure silk that separates them, empires
colliding, and the golden tint of scales.
“Cleopatra’s Bra” is reprinted from Consolation Miracle (Southern Illinois UP, 2003).