The Mask Now

Dying, Dad wanted sunscreen. Nonstop. Frantic if withheld. Would say
screen, and we just did it. Knew he was dying. Was angry.
In last weeks wore red sleepmask over eyes day and night. Would
ride it up onto his forehead for brief intervals, then down, pulled by
hand that still worked. A bit. Sometimes shaking too much so just
cried eyes. Cried now now. Once cried out light — more like a hiss — was
there for that. Yanked it quick. Needed it so badly, the bandage, the

world is a short place, wanted the illustration of it gone, wanted to not
see out, wanted no out. But I am guessing. The vineyards down the slope,
each latent bud beginning to plump. In the distance, mountains. Beyond
sea. All of it distraction, but from what. A waste of what. The red
sleepmask. I should have burned it with the rest but kept it. The pane
made trees look painted on. Silky. Not good silky. In the next valley once,
hammering. Thought it human at first. The woodpeckers went on for

days. A carnival of searching for void. How full void is. Small tufts of
grass growing so that I can keep track. Taking root is not an easy way to
go about finding a place to stay. Maybe nothing would happen after
all. The hollowing-out now added to by crickets. Spiders making
roads in sky. I watch. Look at, then through. What is the empty
part? Where. Can find nothing that is empty. Seems I should, and soon, as
where would he go, or what would the indented place on the bed where

he had been be. Be full of. He was a settler in that flesh, that I could see.
Not far from breaking camp. Wrapping up the organs in their separate
parts — skin rolled away, eyes rolled elsewhere, the fingers tossed
aside — ash, ash — the whole like a dime toss, whom do I love, what part,
what’s in the whom, what’s in the late, is there actually a too late — 
because if there is I do not grasp it. Mask he calls, unable to get into
wheelchair any longer, stares for bit of time into the air out front, past

feet, out the glass door, to the olive tree and fig. Is there fire in the
distance. Squints once back up the ray of light, up, back its long road.
How far. Mask now. The cremation-decision driving its roots through us
all — roots spreading wildly beyond the shadows of the head. “Neighbors”
will continue to feed stump, book says, long after it is cut, will send it
sugars, phosphorous, nitrogen, all the surrounding trees will try, via
fungi, root hairs, send carbon, send enzymes, whole forest hears

stress signals, will mourn, like the elephant — “I’ve wrapped stumps in
black plastic when they’ve refused to die” says Leila, location Wellington,
posted 4 years ago on permagardening. But then guard down. Eyes gone.
A red cotton mask. An old TWA one. Elastic gone. Cries out if it slips off.
Wants blue blanket. Says blue. Angry. Who was not angry. Nothing
enough. Wants to see all daily tests. Read the bloodwork. Wants trans-
fusions which we withhold. Would open him to infection. Would buy no

time. I’m wearing the sleepmask now. I’m trying it on. Rubberband soft
with age. Adding more age. American red. Red full of noise, of artificial
time. Feels like my face is painted on. A spirit. Upturned, ancient, without
expression. An old stream flows alongside. Glimmering tongues promise
the vanishing will be swift. It’s a lie. The periphery disappears but I can
still feel it, our knowing what’s coming a thicket we got lost in — till the
only thing is now — mask my spirit screams — mask now — vacancy

not coming fast enough — before we have to traverse the riddling
disappearances — extinction says the mask — go away now I do not want
to see you any longer — beauty you are too near — too near — I hear a
blackbird and the shoo of air where it lifts off — why won’t you just
go, you circling winds leaves birds systems directions visibles invisibles
honeysuckle limbs and rose gaining self-song, motion, entering this
continuum — oh continuum do not lie to me with this delicate weight of

time, this floating of as ifs and further-ons and all your guides to
dreaming, abundance, the coming true of the true. No. From under here,
listening hard, light feels around me almost visible, doused with
benzene, and time goes away, and my eyes feel on them the small weight,
the minuscule no to things, which I can conjure, which I think I know by
heart, but no, I do not, I need the mask. And it feels like an
idea. We are in a cave now. It is a hundred million years ago. They will

bring the meds again now and the urine pot — he yells for it — but for now
under the mask it is a lowly spot, you can make dawn come
you can feel us inherit the earth, the jay shifts in the tree and you can
hear it. There is little. You hear the little. Hear the head snapped on the
stem. Hear the angel trapped in the stone. Hear pure chance which
sounds like a boy marching alongside an army wanting to enlist. The
year is 1490, 380, 1774, 10 BCE. You hear the outline in the tree — why — 

because it touches the other outlines. If I try to raise the mask the hand
he can barely use flutters angry bird wing at me. Would hit me with
finger wings but too broken. Maybe in Lee’s army, maybe in Grant’s. It
made no difference in the end. Maybe in Caesar’s maybe in Christ’s. The
trillions seem more clear than ever in the day behind the mask. The dark
gray of the fever feels every inch of the bark. Freckled, the pure
proclamations being made by the light. It is not day it is saying, bright as

quicklime, text of flames he can hear — no, not day — day sprawls under
to let us flow through over its parched back. Lies flat. Lie flat day he
thinks under the red mask. Spread yourself over us light, the dead at
Antietam yes his people, both sides, the cufflinks in the drawer he will
not see again — they were Lee’s he would say — they were Grant’s — I saw
the will of the Davis side — I did — he says, smell of gravel coming from
the path, day sitting now over us like a lioness. It is neither dark nor

light. As if you are the place where the branch was sawed off — that place
on the oak — and air silently touched your new raw end. You put it on,
you pull it down, and then effort, enlistment, singing, and you are given a
fine practitioner’s absence, you are a purpose surrounded by chance, a
hole in chance. You can feel the clouds move over the sun from here. You
can hear the sun return and insect-hum spray up. You can lie still and feel
this is the ultimate price. You feel it getting paid. By you. It is you.

More Poems by Jorie Graham