Mask Up, We’re Going Out
There are days I don’t want to put on the mask.
I’d rather go back to bed.
Today is one of those days.
Not because I’m defiant like some, like our King.
Not because my personal space has been invaded
by endless, contradictory rules and regulations.
No, not because of all that.
I don’t want to put on a mask because I’ve never been a good mask wearer.
Even for my own good,
my own protection,
from energy vampires and not-nice people.
I cannot hide what’s inside me,
what hurts, what dismays, what frightens me,
what excites, what illuminates, what fills my heart
I was always meant to sit in the audience, applauding,
not on stage, at the receiving end.
I could never put on a mask,
as colorful and alluring as they could be,
acting the role of someone I am not.
even with so many awesome options to choose from—
masks for every occasion and outfit,
a wardrobe staple, available like underwear
in brightly patterned packs of three,
I still cannot pretend to be who I am not,
stuffing it down deep in my chest,
frantically unable to breathe,
unable to see—my glasses fogging up
so even my expressive eyes
are hard to read.
I would rather stay home,
not because I’m afraid to go outdoors,
but because alone, indoors
I recognize myself.
Or head for the woods
where humans are scarce
and the fowl and the fox
are not judging me
for not wearing a mask.
They prefer potential enemies uncamouflaged, unshrouded.
I realize some people revel in mandated mask wearing.
For them it is a relief. To not have to pretend to pretend.
To be given permission not to make small talk,
not to show pain,
to create an aura of mystery, ambiguity,
to relax behind the mask
while remaining hypervigilant.
And then there are those of our public servants
for whom putting on the mask
has not made them colorblind.
Their racism even more boldly displayed,
infecting us all with grief and despair.
Finally, and foremost, there are the frontline heroes,
who don’t have time for all this over-wrought metaphor.
They wear masks for one simple, spectacular reason:
to save themselves
while risking everything
to save us.
Don’t be fooled.
We are not all in this together.
We just pretend we are.
So many losses.
So much in limbo.
So much to let go.
So why do I grieve my inability to
purchase dinner-sized paper napkins?
I can get all the small, cheap paper napkins I want,
but not the elegant, ample, heavier-weight ones.
I understand why toilet paper is at a premium.
I understand it is an essential worker.
But why large napkins?
Are they so nonessential that manufacturers
stopped making them; putting their ‘man’ power
into more meaningful products?
I prefer to imagine
there may be other women like me,
who have bought them all up.
Other women of my certain age,
whose mothers taught them
you use small napkins for lunch and large napkins for dinner.
Cloth, of course, either way, for company.
You set a lovely table with proper utensils,
and light tall tapers in your grandmother’s
brass candlestick holders.
And that even in a Pandemic,
and even though we know it doesn’t matter
in the Greater Scope,
the voices of our mothers—
whether already long gone or
locked away from us in quarantine—
come to us, reassuring us,
these small, repetitive routines matter.
They help keep us sane.
They help keep us connected.
They help keep us grounded
through space and time.
They remind us we are daughters.
If we were colorblind
we would see the world in black and white.
Exactly the way we see it now.
Passing on an ancient contagion
that’s destroying our spirits,
crushing our souls
a knee on all of our necks,
suffocating the life out of us,
while we pretend it’s about them, not us.
But if we were truly colorblind,
we would see each other
in a resplendent rainbow of
rich, vibrant, overlapping, nuanced hues:
mocha, cream, champagne, citrine,
burnt sienna, almond, ebony,
black as a midnight blue,
holding us in its majesty,
joined, joyful, unjudged
our messy, ugly, words undone
only eyes —
shades of blue, green, brown, hazel
gazing into each other’s
teary with love, compassion,
courage, generosity, grace.
If only we were truly colorblind.
A professional journalist for more than three decades, Amy J. Barry writes feature stories, columns, and reviews for newspapers, magazines, and online publications. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) and has won more than a dozen awards for “Excellence in Journalism” from SPJ-CT Chapter.
Amy has been writing poetry since she can remember, most recently inspired by current events. She is completing a book of connected poems through the eyes of a daughter experiencing the aging process of her parents.
She is the author of A Child’s Grief Journey, a picture book to help young children cope with the death of a parent. The book was selected as one of the best five books for 1999 by Education World.
Amy is also a Hospice-trained bereavement counselor and a certified expressive arts educator—and has facilitated expressive art and writing workshops for both adults and children for over a decade.
She lives on the Connecticut shoreline with her husband.