Mask

You’re waiting for a boat to appear, during
the day a gray silhouette, at night a searchlight
splayed over the waves. Maybe you think there is an horizon
only if there is a boat which assembles your gaze,
pulling you toward its shape
the way you are drawn to the mask of the antelope
among those of the serpent, the hyena,
the lion and the elephant with its great trunk,
all hung on a white wall
next to a continuous video loop
of the dancers who once wore them. You love the head
of the antelope, the ridged particulars of its notched horns,
believing the carver understood
that to inhabit the world was to remember
the antelope singled out from the herd by the lion,
imagining the dancer desired to be one
with the antelope, to know what it meant to be prey,
to be less than cunning, smaller than might
yet outrun the lion. But you know these masks
are no longer part of the world they come from, as you know
you love the antelope for your own reasons,
for the sleepless hours, each memory coming toward you,
a ghost ship, its rigging torn and flapping over the dead uncle,
the mossy wall, the plums ashed always falling,
and the creak of the filthy hammock you’re still swinging in
trying to understand the cut lip, the skinned,
bloodied knees of a boy felled by a sucker punch,
fallen to the asphalt of the beach parking lot, ringed
by other jeering boys who urge him to get up
one more time. Does he remember? Why do you?
What is it you want? The boy is crying and you’re only a kid
who has spent the day collecting bottles on the tar filled beach,
ready to turn them in for a bag of fries and a coke,
a wanderer, watching, drifting all day on the borderless
beach from one set of teenagers to the next,
no boats then, no horizon. And if sleep finally comes,
it is because you know it is best to expect nothing
of all you remember and also impossible not to expect
more. If you are lucky in the morning the redwing
will still call to you from the reddening branch tips
by the side of the road where children are walking to school,
their faces still open as water. But in the morning
you will read the paper and see a photo
of a young man whose hair falls across his face
sentenced to six years because high on everything
he flipped his pickup at the mouth of the river
and killed his best friend and then you will wonder
what luck has to do with any of it. This is you,
whom the lion did not eat, seeing through the haze
of years when no one thing resembled any other.
What was it like then? A boy’s sweaty face streaked
by tears? A gunny sack left in a feedyard churned
by horses hooves? If you can say that much,
all of it unraveled, reassembling now
as you say it, isn’t that enough?

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