Poetry from NER 42.3 (2021)
without realizing it, absently, hundreds of times
each day. A human face I do not notice
is there. When I touch it, I hardly register
the sensation. In the film Onibaba,
a woman fears abandonment, being left
to kill stray soldiers by herself, and so to scare
her widowed daughter-in-law into staying,
dons a mask. A horned mask, demonic,
leering eternally. It is raining when she wears it
and the rain makes it stick to her face. This is meant to be
a punishment for her deception. She chooses
to wear the mask, after all. She knows
she is wearing it. This is why it disguises her.
As I watch her claw at the mask, desperately trying
to pry it from her face, I touch my own.
Somewhat blemished and unshaven. A mask
you do not know you are wearing is a mask that disguises
the world. Tosses a sheet over it. Now
could be anything under there. I will tell you
this. Fear is taught. You are taught what to be
fearful of, as much as you can carry
and not be paralyzed or so weighed down
that you cannot lash out or unlatch
the bedroom window as smoke seeps in
below the door. Something does not need to shrink
for it to grow smaller. As a room fills
with smoke, it is relieved of habitable space.
Fear is like that. It collects in the body
and you have to crawl on the floor of yourself
to breathe. Thalassophobia billows dense
and black above me. So too my fear
of every bristle of hair on a tarantula,
every millipede leg, every talon
piercing a hide, every fang, every dewclaw
has been wafting steadily under the door,
through the half inch needed for it to open
properly. It isn’t my fault. Nothing is
ever stricken from the record.
What I fear is a record of who I am.