I retired from the SUNY Buffalo English Department in 2004. Have published a dozen or so collections of poems. Such my addiction to the sport of squash racquets my headstone is to read: "ONE MORE GAME?" See more of my poems HERE.
The boots, the pompadour, the enigma smile,
the eyes following wherever you go,
motherly and kind, hard, demanding,
that bedrock jaw, that towering brow's
forethought stretching out to forever
where finally no enemies are,
the stature magically dwarf and giant,
like seen from faraway and from underfoot,
the nod that dominoes down the hierarchy
until all hell breaks loose or gets quiet quick,
the famous greatcoat for whose least little thread
how gladly we would die!
--this the emperor, resplendent icon
and cynosure of every blind eye.
But when a child renamed him Naked,
our laughter tore illusion from imposture.
We came to, staring at the shriveled image
of our miserable lives: some shivering imp
--who'd actuated the boots, the greatcoat,
the whole vast shadow play of good and bad
from which real blood ran.
That was in our long dawn
of seeing things as they are
and saying over and over what we saw
until we rejoiced to know at last
what we hadn't known we were seeing.
We pointed, stammered out our disbelief:
There, that's the little, vicious ear that sucked
the whispers snitching from our innocent mouths,
and then that knowing wink included us in
his debaucheries and blunders and scams and worse
--while it said yes to our fingers cunningly
to grab the crumb that came their way in the dark,--
and that club foot good for kicking ass,
that secret claw which bloodied, caressed, bloodied,
and always got its own back, no matter what,
so cleverly you couldn't help but admire...
And all the while we were believing
everything they wanted us to believe!
Shame confused our faces, and we looked down
and hid from ourselves and each other.
But the nakedness of the emperor
is also the empire naked.
That little boy who dissented
from our credulous commonplaces
and our enormities of faith
and was beaten, mocked, medicated,
while decades long we looked the other way,
is an old man fading slowly into
the nothingness at which he points.
A hundred million of us who died
in famine in prison in fire in war,
have died absurdly, incredibly, as if
bulldozed nameless into the pit and left
unshrouded to the raw sky to devour.
Something's gone wrong with reality.
We know what we know now, but no longer
how to believe what we know.
Our lives are going to be better,
but somehow without our lifetimes,
without the meaning we lived through,
as if our history had never happened:
all of it a lie--and all the truth we had.
Suffered for nothing, sacrificed for nothing,
no sins purged, no future prepared.
What was our empire, then?
Desert. And wandering. An interim.
The enemies are back. Out of nowhere.
Whichever way we look, we see them
floating up and down in our retinas,
darkening our view, threatening our sight
--as in the good old bad old days.
Our laughter only laughed our world away,
and our rage cuts every way at once
and still can't make reality come out right.
It's got to be them: the enemies are
the difference that's screwing up the whole works!
We suspect they conspired, they conspire.
In that. In this. In everything.
In fact, nothing is more certain.
It's in their nature to get together,
send signals, understand each other.
They are patient, have faith, never tire,
their simple yet infinitely supple plan
is worldwide, stretches for millennia.
Without them, no empire.
How many enemies does it take
to build an imp? to fill a greatcoat?
There are theories.
And we are counting.
©2016 Irving Feldman
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