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Masked Men

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,

all masked.

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, his work appears regularly on that site.


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