By Robert Knox
PROMPT—During Covid-19 ...
We are all masked men now.
Those without masks are the least honest,
You see them, pushing their way to the front of the line
that no longer exists. Ignoring the signs,
taking out on the clerks what they believe
they have suffered at the hands of others,
the lucky ones, the happy ones, those who have no need to push to the head of
whatever lines lead toward the end of tomorrow, the jumping off place to the universe
where everything will be all about You.
You see them idling in public places, unmasked ones.
Their tantrums are called rallies,
but they are idle in private places as well,
in homes made uncomfortable by the absence
of the usual diversions, the endless babble of the screen, endless need for more
screens as if only the house consisting entirely of mirrors
could adequately capture the wonder
of the one, the real one, the only one we will ever need to see —
but suffering instead the hiatus
of those serial exhibitions of herd brutality,
regularly broadcast, whole and afternoons and well into the night, consisting of the
carefully curated adventures
of professionally masked men heavily armored and helmeted
who are paid huge salaries to break heads for the amusement
the Unmasked Men.
Our mothers would have called them louts
I do not know what to call my mother in these troubled days, or where, because she is
in the place beyond calling, forever masked in all my partial recollections and
inevitably flawed understanding even on those rare occasions when her own mask slipped.
It does not trouble me, this masking
for I have always worn mine
Those who live by the pen, or its virtual equivalents
are always masked.
Strip me of mine, and I am not sure that either of us will wholly like what we see.
There is no other way to do it
No other way to know who is speaking
than the Signifier of the Mask.
Cranky, sardonic, quarrelsome, superior, brash, combative,
merely angry — but, oh, how tedious —
sly as a fox, raven ominous
a Private Man with a public mask,
the Comedian of the yellow house,
the Hero with a Heart of Stone
the man with a Corporation heart
the doer of biddings
the speaker of friendly lies, gentle deceptions
the Public Face of the organization
the face of this,
the face of that,
It does not trouble me
None of these do
They are as dear to me
as any of the neighbors, or landlord's tenants
with whom I do not speak.
But these maskless ones...
These are the people who, in their hearts,
believe that only they truly matter
The rest of us are just scenery.
They need to find a mask
and learn how to see.
Robert Knox is a poet, fiction writer, and correspondent for The Boston Globe. As a contributing editor for Verse-Virtual.org, his work appears regularly on that site.