Kevin McIlvoy


The parable of the robe

During the apportioning ritual he had asked – he had been the only one to ask – for the royal blue robe with the unusual high collar and the dense material at the chest and waist and weighted hem. The robe included cleverly installed inseam snap buttons. Sturdy belt loops remained in place for a missing wide leather cinch.

Snug on him as a skin, it fit, it really fit: an actual skin with blemishes, with cloth smelly from the house’s unguents and rank cushions, and from the smoke and the animal renderings of past houses, and from the oils and from the coals and from the larded molds and sewer-gases and moth balls and dander smears and vinegars of structures older yet.

Snug on him. An old man in his old man’s blue-rat outfit: he felt the descendant’s pride in claiming this dressy gown his father wore that had been grandmother’s and inherited from her father who had worn the robe passed down for generations, sometimes to a woman, sometimes to a man.

He shucked his pants and socks and shirt and entered again: enrobed as if enthroned, the air around him heating and expanding.

This, he thought, is how the dead warm the living.

In his tight-fitting house-dress he regally strode and danced awhile, processed ungrandly up and grandly down the staircase, bowed to and boogied with the stout sylvan-green fridge. He felt of his time and not, of his gender and the other, of his own self-constructions and of his secret nature.

As his siblings had scattered out and away with their new possessions, saying good-bye good-bye to the eight-hundred square feet of sentiment, he had waved at them, welcoming their laughter at the absurd ruff collar swamping him, the once-handsome robe sleeves waggling, his tiny, mighty paws retreating: son inside his father’s mother’s father, man in a man’s woman’s man’s rags, rat in a rat’s rag’s rat’s rags, years upon years of recompense for abundances and impoverishments.

The way a rat chuckles he chuckled, he grinned, pretended he was wearing smooth and hairy ears, hairy and smooth shoulders, his waist tightly belted and full breasts lifted, pretended it suited him fine to be so coarse so fair.

The rough boards and uneven tiles and dust-gummed carpets bit and snipped at and bristled under his bare feet. At the crumby corners of the rooms, he bowed to get the drift again of the unsettled complaints, the settled ones, the matters of dispute utterly ill-suited to one moment inherently tailored to the next.

Rat to rat, we can at last be at peace, he thought.

He stripped off his boxers, shirked himself further into this new old way of inhabiting a story about being neither and becoming both, apart from and of one part of dim and vivid recognition.

He sat. Between his knees, he made a robe-cloth basin into which the tears that would hit hit hit and sink in could be passed down.


In our dream band, on blues harmonica:

Kevin McIlvoy is the author of six novels: One Kind Favor, At the Gate of All Wonder, Hyssop, Little Peg, The Fifth Station, and A Waltz; a short story collection, The Complete History of New Mexico; and a collection of short fictions and prose poems, 57 Octaves Below Middle C. His poems have appeared in Consequence, The Night Heron Barks, Willow Springs, The Shore, Barzakh, River Heron Review, LEON, The Georgia Review, Still, Superstition Review, Your Impossible Voice, and many other magazines. For twenty-seven years he was editor in chief of the literary magazine, Puerto del Sol. He taught in the Warren Wilson College MFA Program in Creative Writing from 1987 to 2019, and as a Regents Professor of Creative Writing in the New Mexico State University MFA Program from 1981 to 2008.


Previous page


2nd Session