evaristo emperors babe cover

Extract from The Emperor’s Babe

This extract comes from p. 3 of Bernardine Evaristo’s The Emperor’s Babe (Penguin edition, 2002). The text is fully annotatable: highlight any portion to add your own thoughts.


Who do you love? Who do you love,
when the man you married goes off

for months on end, quelling rebellions
at the frontiers, or playing hot-shot senator in Rome;

his flashy villa on the Palatine Hill, home
to another woman, I hear,

one who has borne him offspring.
My days are spent roaming this house,

its vast mosaic walls full of the scenes on Olympus,
for my husband loves melodrama.

They say his mistress is an actress,
a flaxen-Fräulein type, from Germania Superior.

Oh, everyone envied me, Illa Bella Negreeta!
born in the back of a shop on Gracechurch Street,

who got hitched to a Roman nobleman,
whose parents sailed out of Khartoum on a barge,

no burnished throne, no poop of beaten gold,
but packed with vomiting brats

and cows releasing warm turds
on to their bare feet. Thus perfumed,

they made it to Londinium on a donkey,
with only a thin purse and a fat dream.