Forget this mask, it can wait it out
In a cedar box, wrapped in furs,
It only gathers strength unseen
Buried, it might sprout
Might send up concentric rings of shoots
like a circle of whips
lost in the forest that will come to be
Or it can wait for generations
just hanging on a wall
Disguised as art,
as bric and brac
as time out of mind
Hanging and waiting,
Like a hawk hanging on the still air,
At no time anticipating the plunge to earth,
That’s the way it waits
A shaft of cedar,
a hank of hair,
a length of cord
Because a time will come
And in that time a very young member of the family,
too young to know a disguise from a miracle,
will open the box
And unwrap the furs
like Christmas morning
He will dig in the forest of shoots
with his toy shovel,
Knock off the clods,
wipe off the dust and mold,
Blow away the decay
with soft, tentative breaths
Or just climb up on the mantelpiece
Finally old enough and big enough
To reach what’s taunted him for years
And when he pulls on the cord,
the great beak drops open at last
The old wooden skull splits in half,
showing the clever way the cords attach inside.
And there is no time to worry about disguise,
or even art
Or even birds.
Because inside the wood is slick
and hard with red paint.
Inside is the graven face of God,
scowling with ineffable love.
The thrust-out tongue of God
supports the broken back
of an enchanted child,
like a fetus, but with eyes wide open
The child lies touched by the teeth,
between two red arms
that reach out from the face of God
along the inside of the halves of the skull.
Two red arms
holding small human bones.
The mouth of God
holds polished human teeth
But nothing human in its eyes
And nothing human in the glimpse,
beyond the teeth and tongue
of an open throat.
What perhaps he suspected all along
But now knows for certain.
Probably he flees
From the room,
the living grave.
Into the dark
Into his adulthood
Later an adult will come
and see the mask open,
the cord swinging back and forth
as if to tease a cat.
He will smile, and gently close the beak,
turning the mask back into a bird of prey.
Back into a piece of art
He will look around, still smiling,
for the child.
He will touch the cord,
roll it in his fingers.
Wearing a smile