Chad Davidson

Cleopatra’s Bra

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).