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The Emperor’s Old Clothes

ISSUE:  Winter 1980
Everyone could see them,
which made them common
& ridiculous—the cuff & sleeve,
the collar of mortal ermine,
its circular shadows on a field of snow.
And the embroidery: gold-braid
teased into mille fleurs & a trellis
of vine leaves that made the young girls
who worked it blind—that it was all
too heavy; that every time he put them on
he wore the tedium that made them.

He called in tailors.
They saw that what he wanted
was to be embezzled out of that weight,
that the consummate betrayal
is the betrayal of self:
the way it is for us
when we hear news of a suicide
& are shaken—how could anyone, willingly,
enter that absence we most fear?
No, we say, we must wear our lives
till they wear us out.

Not emperors. Nor tailors. They know
what the suicides know—
the ones the emperor saw at the window
that Mid-Summer’s Eve: their weary fish-mouths
going up & down as they tried to speak,
to somehow shape the words that would say
It was easy. We do not repent.
We never fell from Grace,
we flew!. . .

       And how he felt then,
turning back to the mirror, the darkness
behind him in the mirror saying Yes.
The mahogany closet sagging in on itself
saying Yes. And the tailors nodding
as they came out of the darkness,
holding eternity up by the seams.
How the robe slid from his shoulders,
how he stepped then, ever after,
into the glad-rags of the invisible.


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