Cleopatra and Marc Anthony Play Chess

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.