This selection, chosen by Managing Editor Krista Cox, is from Talking to Snakes by Rebecca Bratten Weiss, released by Ethel Zine in 2020.
We Take Turns Being Cleopatra
We’ve only hoarded enough asps for one woman alone,
and anyway, whichever of us is lying stiff as a doll in white
robes we will want the other two to make sure our tongue
isn’t hanging out, we aren’t drooling, we’re not lying in a
way that makes our gut look big or as though we have too
Whenever one of us is done being Cleopatra she can sit up
and hand the asp to the next one. Relay race. Imagine how
the asp will have a sheepish look on its face, like, okay, I’ll
bite your breasts if I have to. It was just sunning itself in
the desert when we came along. There’s something about it
that reminds us of suckling an infant.
We really don’t care what Antony does when he comes in
and finds us taking turns laying ourselves out white and
rigid and precious as death. If he wants to fall upon his sword
he’s welcome to try.
In the sarcophagus we snap pics with our smartphones,
trying to catch the swivel of the asp’s lithe body just so,
the angles of our cheekbones, the immortality of us,
taking turns being Cleopatra.
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