In the Old Dictator’s obituary, a charming anecdote—
When the Old Dictator was a boy, his father saved his wages
for a month to buy his son a watch. The boy, in turn,
turned back the watch’s hands every day for a month
so his father wouldn’t lose time on his account.
Before he was the Old Dictator, he was a baby
babbling. Now he speaks three languages,
thanks to his time in the army. After genocide,
he took up painting. “His paintings manifest a man
grappling,” the Curator attests, buys seven.
When the Dictator scorned the Old Dictator,
the townspeople awarded the Old Dictator
a new title: Empathetic.
“Look at that soft power,” a townswoman cooed.
“Bruised like peaches from the half-off bin.”
The townspeople collected their best language
to offer the Empathetic Dictator.
The Empathetic Dictator was not home.
(He had gone to play golf with the Dictator.)
The townspeople left their gift on his stoop.
When the Empathetic Dictator returned, he adorned himself
with the townspeople’s best language. He commissioned a photo,
which he turned into Christmas cards. The townspeople
displayed the cards on their mantlepieces.
One day, the photo finds the homepage. The Empathetic Dictator has died,
the newspaper reports. The townspeople are sad. The townspeople read
of their sadness on tiny screens.
How tender the old rule appears when you hold it up to the present like a cashier
turning a hundred-dollar bill toward the light, squinting, proclaiming it Real.