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Lost in Decoration

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"Style can make complicated things seem simple, or simple things complicated."

— Jean Cocteau
  • May 19, 2010 10:49 am

    The Death of the Hat


    The Death of the Hat, by Billy Collins

    Once every man wore a hat.

    In the ashen newsreels,
    the avenues of cities
    are broad rivers flowing with hats.

    The ballparks swelled
    with thousands of strawhats,
    brims and bands,
    rows of men smoking
    and cheering in shirtsleeves.

    Hats were the law.
    They went without saying.
    You noticed a man without a hat in a crowd.

    You bought them from Adams or Dobbs
    who branded your initials in gold
    on the inside band.

    Trolleys crisscrossed the city.
    Steamships sailed in and out of the harbor.
    Men with hats gathered on the docks.

    There was a person to block your hat
    and a hatcheck girl to mind it

    while you had a drink
    or ate a steak with peas and a baked potato.
    In your office stood a hat rack.

    The day war was declared
    everyone in the street was wearing a hat.
    And they were wearing hats

    when a ship loaded with men sank in the icy sea.

    My father wore one to work every day
    and returned home
    carrying the evening paper,
    the winter chill radiating from his overcoat.

    And now my father, after a life of work,
    wears a hat of earth,
    and on top of that,
    a lighter one of cloud and sky—a hat of wind.


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