Poem of the Week - The Buffalo News
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Poem of the Week

By Alice Notley

The mask is what you use; it isn’t fake, it’s a mask. Your senses love you; they

evolved to be your mask—or you made them, didn’t you?

I keep talking to my future self: she tells me how to be her. I’m already her,

that mask.

The bacterium put on its mask, a painstaking silver drop. The quail flies up,

I see his red crest which is almost invisible in dawn and desert dun, don’t alliterate

or you’ll go to hell.

In my culture, I need to repeat sounds, so I can step across the instant gap to

future, future her. I can’t even know what I’ll write, she tells me things.

Light through rabbit’s ear orange-pink on the other side of gully. The rabbit’s

mask’s alien, but I can humanize him--he can be powerful and dangerous. The

dark chaotic wind—not wind—can flash from his eye holes, and his teeth holes

can be scary.

Why are you scared? Afraid you’re going to die? Are you still afraid of that?

she asks. It’s not that she’s smug. Even though she knows what’s going to happen to

me. But she’s not dead yet either.

The mask is covered with writing that people think they understand, now they

understand it; you never understood it. Before. Now you can.

The mask is leering at you, with its dark mouth and eyes: you can’t understand

what you’re making up right now, so get on with making it up.

ALICE NOTLEY will read from her work at 2 p.m. Thursday at the Poetry Collection, 420 Capen Hall, University at Buffalo North Campus and at 8 p.m. at the Western New York Book Arts Center, 468 Washington St. A leading figure in the New York School and subsequent experimental poetics, she now lives in Paris and is the author of more than 30 books. This poem is from verse narrative “Culture of One” (Penguin Books).

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