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By Alex Harper

"And this, your Highness, is the very finest silk,
exquisite, as you can see, I'm picturing the robes
now, the utmost majesty, it's almost sheer
but not"-- I remember this story, a boy in the crowd
laughs at the Emperor walking in the nude, but
what is the moral, why don't the adults see it?
The power of groupthink on perception?
That doesn't make sense, perhaps it's really
telling kids they have a special way of seeing, which
may be true. I don't know who wrote it, should google
but google reduces everything to names and dates --
"Perhaps I'll design my own clothes", I tell him, how hard
can it be? I'll avoid anything hinting of see-through,
or maybe I'll clank about in plate armour, then
no-one will laugh that I'm naked, but it doesn't sound
comfy or practical or easy to take off, what if I go
the other route, hang out with nudists? Everyone
carrying their demure little towel to sit on, they must have
a healthy view of bodies, what they look like for real, not
the over-muscled hunters some painters render in
the galleries I open ("I declare this wonderful gallery open")
not the women with unlikely measurements and well-positioned
leaves (and some curator showing me round,
"This is a scene from Greek myth, you'll notice the beautiful
rendering of the foliage,"and I want to say "Why are they
all in the buff?" See in that version I'm the kid, the Emperor's
new paintings) it's too cold here for nudism though,
no olive groves to prance around in not like Greece and Rome,
I bet the druids wrapped up warm, perhaps I should move
my palace somewhere to the South, but this is where my
roots are, my heroes, Boudica and Arthur (they are never
nude in art). It's time to sit for a new sculpture soon, and an update
of my profile on the coinage, at least the grey in my beard
won't show -- maybe the point of the story is the boy isn't afraid
of the tyrant, and everyone in the crowd is thinking it but
scared their heads will be sliced from their necks if they laugh,
all that coaching in literature and I can't remember
the gist of a fairy tale -- the tailor's sweating, maybe some Duke's
put him up to this, I can think of several who want me overthrown,
everyone covets power, or some do, though
power is not all it's thought to be, I can do anything in theory,
in practice there's repercussions of every decision. But what
about the tax yield, the harvest, relations with the continent, they ask,
my council, my beehive more like, their eyes buzzing in protest at
things I say but bowing to show they are humble, sometimes
I think I should just walk out, slip the guards, put on a simple
cloak, set up a flower stall in the market place, or bread, sell
misshapen loaves, gossip about the weather and the football,
not have to choose, not have the scribe writing down every word,
I need a break, a holiday, sun on my skin, the tailor's looking at me
"Or would you like your usual midnight blue?" I nod, yes yes, but as I do it
I'm sad for the opportunity missed to swan about in my
birthday suit, the crowd hushed and silent, the newspapers
praising my taste and wisdom and the fabric that wasn't there.

* * *

Alex Harper’s poetry has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Rattle, Liminality and Kaleidotrope among others, as well as two previous appearances in Mirror Dance. He lives in England, and can be found online at and on Twitter as @harpertext.

What advice do you have for other writers?

There is a school of thought that says one should write every day, and I know that for some people writing every day is a good way of keeping the engine running. But I’ve learned that it doesn’t work for me -- I have phases when my mind is in the wrong place for writing, and forcing it produces dispiriting results. It used to bother me, now I think of those non-writing times as necessary (for me) fallow periods. So my advice is: half the art of writing, I think, is learning over time which advice to follow and which to let go.