Reading Instructions: This poem is a ‘butterfly’ or ‘syncopated’ sonnet, a form invented by Tyehimba Jess in his Pulzer-Prize winning debut Olio (Wave Books, 2017). This form allows for multitude readings of the text. Each ‘wing’ represents a separate voice or speaker in the poem, in this case, one wing for Cleopatra, one wing for Marc Anthony. You may read the poem by selecting one voice, including joint or ‘body’ passages all the way through, or read both voices simultaneously by reading across the page.
Jade and marble, goddess and warrior dark and light: delegates, loyal hours,
circling rivals, dancing birds of paradise studied, steady movements, armed minds
erect with wit. Sensibilities should be sharpened like weapons in war.
Vitality depends upon considered movements—
upon divinity, a face upon flags overhead. blood shed. Mimicry strips stakes, ensures
we sit, an unrealistic pair, an odd match an even match. Unforeseen, unforsaken
bantering into the candlelit hours.
The game is a mirror. See our positions:
offensive queen and defensive knight
throwing our reputations to the gaping
jaws of alligator gods who come gobbling. Our eyes a-blitz, deciphering one another's
Mapping ganders and glides across the tiles, smiles curling the corners of our mouths.
We wear the predictable clues—
signals of hunger for victory.
Like this, we trace
the routes to come. We sit,
entrapped, slow plots like riddles entranced by one another, anticipation
disrobing, unveiling these mysteries as piece by piece is thrown aside.
We play like this. We eat figs and drink wine
as we figure and unwind. Our pastime is a series
of invented rituals—instructionless
sequences, interdependent and galvanizing.
Our intentions are clearly mutual: destruction. Our dynamic in choreography.