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Note From the Emperor

by Jeff Friedman

The emperor sends us a message—
“Avoid the streets
where work is done.
Stay in your homes.”

Entire neighborhoods disappear.
The city is a mound of rubble.
The machines chew up metal and glass.
Bricks crack, boards snap.

At dusk, rain drizzles over bodies
piled on truck beds, glazes ploughs
and the long noses of tanks.
Still the cleansing continues.

“Forget what you’ve seen
and heard,” he says;
“It didn’t happen,
it didn’t happen.”

When the wailing stops,
widows curl into their sheets.
The fires die down.
A great tongue laps the rocks.

The emperor sends greetings
of peace and prosperity,
“Be happy you’re alive,” he says.
“Speak to no one.”

But the air is full
of holes, and everywhere
we look,
someone is missing.


Jeff Friedman is the author of four collections of poetry: Black Threads (forthcoming from Carnegie Mellon University Press in 2006), Taking Down the Angel (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2003), Scattering the Ashes (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1998) and The Record-Breaking Heat Wave (BkMk Press-University of Missouri-Kansas City, 1986). His poems and translations have appeared in many literary magazines, including American Poetry Review, Poetry, 5 AM, New England Review, Forward, Maggid, Poetry East, Literary Imagination and The New Republic. He is a core faculty member in the M.F.A. program in Poetry Writing at New England College. (7/2006)

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