Where the Sea Meets the Desert
Antony and Cleopatra swam at Mersa Matruh
In the clear blue shallows.
Imagine the clean sand, the absence of litter –
No plastic bottles or scraps of styrofoam packing,
No jetsam at all except the occasional corpse
Of a used slave tossed off a galley –
And the shrieks of the dancing Queen as the hero splashed her
While her cheer-squad of ladies-in-waiting giggled on cue,
The eunuchs holding the towels.
With salt in her eyes did she wrinkle the perfect nose
Of which Pascal would later venture the opinion
That had it been shorter (he didn’t say by how much)
History would have been different?
They were probably both naked. What a servant saw
Did not count. They might even have boffed each other
Right there at the water’s edge like a pair of dolphins
Washed up in the middle of a mad affair,
With her unable to believe the big lunk would ever
Walk away from this, and him in his soul
Fighting to forget that this was R&R
And there was still the war.
There is always the war. The Aussies in Tobruk
Could hear the German bombers at El Adem
Warming up on the airfield
For the five-minute flight that is really the only distance
Between bliss and blitz.
Ears still ringing from kookaburras and whipbirds
Were heckled by Heinkels.
When Antony eyeballed her Coppertone tits and bum
He was looking at Actium.
Shake it, lady.
Shake it for the Afrika Korps.
Where the sea meets the desert there is always,
There is always the war.
from The Book of My Enemy (Picador, 2003), © Clive James 2003; Recording from The Artificial Horizon: Poems from the Book of My Enemy, Vol 2 (Macmillan Digital Audio, 2008) used by permission of the author and the publisher.