Fine Woven Invisible Cloth Is Camouflage, Too by Denise Bergman

by Leslie Anne Mcilroy

That which goes unseen
That which withers from disuse
That which is unspoken

that which

that which is hidden
and that which effortlessly conceals


Physical yet invisible
my fears are cloaked in spring-bright green


Consider the tale of the emperor’s  
new clothes / no clothes

The title depends on who’s listening
and how closely

on who’s looking,
alone or with another

on who’s watching

on whose voice is tuned, oiled,

The title is the what-to-do


Skin-tight skin buttoned-up
high as a frill collar
he trembles in the mirror,
doesn’t see
what he wants to see


Swindler tailors
promised to weave a most elegant  
extraordinary outfit — invisible,
they told his highness,
to every person unfit for their position,
stupid, or incompetent

Magentas, sky blues, 1000 threads / inch,  
ruffled at the hip
and cut to shirr liberally at the waist


Along the spectacle route,
our unabashed  
stares can’t interpret a cartology
to reveal his royal bones

can’t decode his attribute-what-you-will
red Rorshach birthmark

can’t comprehend the ruse

But a girl riding her father’s shoulders
does just that —
her untamed eyes see flesh
sunburnt, mosquito-mawed, ordinary,
pimpled by prickly heat —

and she shouts out lookahee here


I don’t lookahee,
I turn, I’d say, obediently,


His horse galumphing,
the emperor waves like the pope,
winks confidence

until the unadulterated
girl with 20 / 20
distance and close-up vision,
with an unobstructed
line of sight, shouts again
the emperor wears no clothes


Self-proclaimed, he’s been bowed to,
saluted, yes-sirred

palace featherbed to peasant floor

His palomino has a new tooled saddle,
braided mane,
decorated blinders,
turquoise peacock plume

Yes-sirred, bowed-to, he waves
The embroidered gloves
feel a tad too tight


Silk wrist-length imaginary gloves
with lace cuffs,
mismeasured, misfitted,
or the seams sewn too wide
or his fingers swollen from repetitive
idleness and give-me


The crowd along the muddy roadway
buckles under offerings:
sheep, stocks of jam,
cured ham, fresh kale, harvest bouquets,
rents, tithes, indenture,
earned fear, inherited fear

jittering, stammering, lifelong


Tailors lift his arms,
adjust the untouchably light
specially woven cloth on his shoulders
Ric-rac trimmed sleeves
ballooned at his elbows taper
down to his wrists

Photo of Denise Bergman

Photo of Denise Bergman

Denise Bergman’s book, A Woman in Pieces Crossed a Sea, won the Patricia Clark Smith Poetry Prize and was published by West End Press in June 2014. The Telling (Cervena Barva Press in January 2014) is a book-length poem generated by a one-sentence secret a relative told her: she believed that as a child she had accidentally killed her mother. Bergman’s Seeing Annie Sullivan (poetry, Cedar Hill Books) is based on the early life of Annie Sullivan, Helen Keller’s teacher, and was translated into Braille and a talking book. Her manuscript Three Hands None has been a finalist for publication at Alice James Press, Cleveland State University Press, White Pine Press, and Pleiades Press. Her poetry is widely published. Learn more