Where We Are 17 Years Later
We always wore a mask.
We have spent years telling people
to take their masks off
now we cannot trust those
not wearing one at all.
I’m more attuned now to my own
mortality, a sheep grazing just before
The restless nights I tarry in
feel colder than they should.
It’s summer outside but the heatwave
is a secret we all keep well hidden
under our clothes. If the office
calls today and tells me my services
are not needed
I will slip the mask down to take a deep
breath of humid air.
Trusting no one but the dog at home.
She waits for me, longs to hear me
shut the car door, kneel to tell her to
come. She’s never owned a mask.
Still, she pities me. She breathes heavy
only because it’s summer. She has no fear
of social distancing.
The dog on the other side of her,
a neighbor with a tall fence, uses that
fence as a mask, keeping two dogs
of opposite sex from being dogs.
No slaughter. Just a refusal to admit
or allow life to happen as it might.
My wife looks like summer.
Her collar bone glistens, tan, a popsicle
my parched lips would embrace.
If she hears whispers of layoffs and furloughs
and unemployment benefits, I know what
she’ll do. Shrugging shoulders, she’ll say
“I told you so.” I ask her if the lamb ever knows
when it’s being taken to a dimly lit room.
If it knows the waiting fate.
The thought makes me a vegetarian.
She already is. Always two steps ahead,
she calmly tells me she loves me
in a way I’m ashamed of. My excuses,
my variety of masks, are as thick as the walls
in our first apartment.
It was summer, 2003. Back then, we didn’t
have much. No dog. No mortgage.
Just a dumb cat
and the streets of North Charleston to walk.
Those low country nights we would
slide off our masks, make love awkwardly,
and firmly establish tender roots.
And even now I look around, my wife,
my kids, my dog, and I swear
nothing has changed.