photo of American actress Theda Bara as Cleopatra, 1917

A Postcard from Cairo by Luca Penne

On my recent trip the largest pyramids grew restless and became your breasts. Of course this had happened before, usually in public, and had never disturbed your calm surface. The immensity of the slave-labored sandstone blocks spoke well for your intentions. The points at the apex seemed especially flattering in the way they had resisted centuries of erosion. But how could I explain why the camels spat your name in Sanskrit rather than Arabic? How could I admit that the groaning of tombs resounded like gossip? How could I send you this postcard stippled with the flattering pastels you expect, when the entire Egyptian postal service gave up ogling you for Lent? Improperly bribed government officials reported us to the Sphinx, as though we were children of the desert and responsive to its needs. The Nile sneered in its trough, most of its water drained for poppy fields south of Aswan. Tourist boats ran aground. The Sphinx, eager to reassure me, moved its paws to suggest an embrace, but the sand crept between my toes and grated so viciously I cried like a dingo.

Luca Penne grew up in St. Louis, attended Southwestern Missouri State, got an MFA, and won the Emerson-Tate Award. His prose poetry has appeared in many journals. He lives in West Lebanon, NH, and builds bars and runs a ski-lift across the river in Vermont. He has studied with many prominent, unknown poets both in Missouri and in New England.

Lead image“Theda Bara as Cleopatra, 1917” (via Flickr user Lucas)