Remains of the Day
It’s dirty work, keeping the Imperial Palace clean. For a small man, the Emperor has large appetites: so someone has to clear away the gnawed ox-bones,
cracked crab-claws, sucked shark-fins, spit-out tripe: sweep the broken liquor bottles they call dead soldiers, push the charred cigar-stubs and ash into the trash.
Someone has to launder the Emperor’s soiled clothes, jumpsuits made of the national polyester called vynalon: strip the sheets when he wakes from his royal hangover,
wash away the body fluids no one wants to know about — the sick-sweat, torn hair, broken fingernails from the latest pleasure-party to get out of hand, though not the last.
Someone has to bury the dead girl who isn’t lying here, who never existed:who could not have dreamed the end she came to.
Rip out the rugs, scour the floors before the stains soak into splinter and grain, bleach every board of the blood that is not there.
Outside there are guards, and guards to guard against the guards. A slammed door, some muffled cries — someone’s re-educating someone again.
Keep cleaning. Don’t let anyone see you see them see you seeing them: don’t get shot. I’ve been turning a blind eye since I was born,
I’ll be turning a blind eye until I drop dead — I’m not the first man to do this and won’t be the last. Our country is full of janitors.
But I’ll be relieved when they take the body away, far from the palace, out of earshot, smell-shot, mind-shot, dream-shot — Then let it be done quickly, let me forget
the screams of the slaughtered, while I clench my rag of life, wiping down the splattered doors, ripping out the rugs, whitewashing the walls, as if calcite could make them clean, until ammonia peels the skin from my hands.