The Tragedy of Hats

By Clarinda Harriss Clarinda Harriss
is that you can never see the one you're wearing,
that no one believes the lies they tell,
that they grow to be more famous than you,
that you could die in one but you won't be buried in it.

That we use them to create dogs
in our own image. That the dogs
in their mortarboards and baseball caps and veils
crush our hubris with their unconcern.

That Norma Desmond's flirty cocktail hat flung aside
left a cowlick that doomed her. That two old ladies
catfighting in Hutzler's Better Dresses both wore flowered
straw. Of my grandmother the amateur hatmaker,

this legend: that the holdup man at the Mercantile
turned to say Madam I love your hat before
he shot the teller dead who'd giggled at her
homemade velvet roses. O happy tragedy of hats!

That they make us mimic classic gestures,
inspiring pleasure first, then pity and then fear.
See how we tip them, hold them prettily against the wind
or pull them off and mop our sweaty brows

like our beloved foolish dead in photographs.
Like farmers plowing under the ancient sun.

Source: Poetry (August 1999).

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This poem originally appeared in the August 1999 issue of Poetry magazine

August 1999

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Arts & Sciences, Relationships, Family & Ancestors, Social Commentaries, Popular Culture, Humor & Satire

Poetic Terms Imagery, Free Verse, Refrain

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