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  • What Cleopatra Sees
  • Meena Alexander (bio)

Cleopatra in dark glasses turns a cornerAnd comes upon Morris Gittell Insurance Broker

She hides behind a pillarSo he will not see her, the child loitering, close to the sign—

We Help You in Obtaining Your Birth CertificateEspecially If You Were Born in the South.

Why is the boy standing there?Dressed in his hooded sweatshirt

He ducks his head, murmuring yes, yes, yesTo that other life, not yet come.

Something floats between her skinAnd glass, a cluster of risky hieroglyphs

Rare Almagest, the mysteries of birth and deathCut from a platinum bath.

Haunted by light a man stood for hours,Hands soaked, getting it just right.

She watched him with his camera,Scarf to his throat, lens glinting.

Dear Damage—she writes in her own head—My soul knows rivers.

She adjusts her glasses, watches the boyNaked, gleaming with Nile water,Then torn apart, Osiris, all his flesh thrownInto the pitch drunk Mississippi, [End Page 31]

Then cheeks stung with rock rose and eglantine,Miraculously whole, racing through plots

Of bullwhips and manacles.She sees him step out of the C train,

Strolling up Sugar Hill in dun colored flannels,Houndstooth jacket slung over his shoulder,

A grown man, hair white, smoldering in sunlight:The children of Gaza sing in his veins.

I cannot get him out of my mind, she whispersTo no one in particular.

He is that lad and he is Osiris,Come to live in me, part of the speckled glory of things. [End Page 32]

Meena Alexander

Meena Alexander was born in India and grew up there and in Sudan. She has published six volumes of poetry including Illiterate Heart (winner of the PEN Beyond Margins Award). Forthcoming this fall is her new volume Birthplace with Buried Stones (TriQuarterly Books/ Northwestern UP, 2013). Her book of essays Poetics of Dislocation appeared in the Michigan Poets on Poetry Series. She has received awards from the Guggenheim, Fulbright, and Rockefeller foundations and the Arts Council of England. She is Distinguished Professor of English at CUNY Graduate Center and Hunter College.


* Inspired by Roy DeCarava's Gittel, 1950



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