Imagine being nineteen again, still pimply and awkward, parroting a script from behind a plexiglass wall: Phone number, please, you say, and imagine her fingers, typing one in. You hear the click, clicking of keys on the keypad, sickening, music of the dead, you think, you’re dying.
You’re maybe a hundred pounds, just a little thing, whose mask covers two thirds your fragile face, and they buried you at the door, the enforcer, instructed to say— This door, not that, and arrows, follow them, follow them, do like I do, with this cover, my voice smothered, my soul—
I’m sure I was just standing there, leaning over my cart, watching my daughter shop for cards, when I heard her voice— not the enforcer, but a fellow peruser, like me, another blank face, masked, breathless, breathlessly, you’re going the wrong way, she said, you’re not following the arrows, she said, and her bony, dead finger pointed down along the ground. I followed it, and sure enough, she was right about me: Rule breaker, careless spreader of germs. The shame, the shame, she would have me feel, for facing the wrong way, disobeying.
Fuck that. My latest mantra. Fuck that and fuck that, too. Even as I do it. Where’s the humanity in this? I want to scream. But who would hear me? We’re too busy saving lives by not living, buttressed as we are behind masks, She doesn’t even realize I’m not smiling, Or, does she? Maybe there’s something of, fuck this shit, in my eyes, the only part of me she can see, if she tries to see, but she doesn’t.
The mask isn’t merely the covering for a mouth, a nose, — it’s blanket, too, as in a morgue. Covering the dead. And I know, my time is coming soon enough, but I’m not dead yet, covered as I am, prepared for burial. Yet, still pounding on coffins, trying to pull back the heavy veil, cursing my heart away,
Some, come into the world as old souls,
like they’ve been here a hundred times,
a bit weary, wise, or jaded, made cautious
by pain & an understanding of human hearts.
But not my son, whose eyes saw the earth
as if he, and it, were just created.
Yes, from first breath he was a wanderer,
like his father in his lust for the world,
possibilities stretched out before him,
no person stranger, no place strange,
a modern day viking making his way
across an infinite, angry sea, with no map.
Unless, music is a map. Song after song,
his heart in waves of hard-plucked strings.
He sang loud, and I wondered how
he could pour himself out in front of crowds.
I see him, even now, upon the ocean,
his wooden ship, the waves, the sails.
Another day, I’ve collected
over eighteen thousand
now, but none like this:
the birds have returned,
and the clouds hang low,
like the mist of what is
unknown, and I don’t care
to know, because I gave up
predicting the future
when I realized
I was always wrong.
The only thing, now,
is this poem, and how
it pulls me toward confession.
You see, a life recedes;
place a bottle in the ocean
and watch it slowly
carried away by the waves;
that is me and you,
and this poem.