The Right MaskA Poem by Brian Patten
One night a poem came to a poet
“From now on” it said, “you must wear a mask.”
“What kind of mask?” asked the poet,
“A rose mask,” said the poem
“I’ve used it already” said the poet
“I’ve exhausted it.”
“Then wear the mask that’s made
Out of the nightingale’s song. Use that mask.”
“But it’s an old mask,” said the poet.
“it’s all used up.”
“Nonsense,” said the poem ,”it’s the perfect mask.
Nevertheless, try on the god mask.
Now that illuminates Heaven”
“It’s a tired mask,” said the poet,
“And the stars crawl about in it like ants.”
“Then try on the troubadour’s mask or the singer’s mask,
Try on all the popular masks.”
“I have,” said the poet, “I’m in love with them.
But they all fit so awkwardly.”
Now the poem was getting impatient.
It stamped its feet like a child, it screamed:
“Then try on your own face!
Try the one mask that terrifies
The mask that no-one else could possibly use,
The mask only you could wear out!”
The poet tore at his face till it bled.
“This mask?” he yelled “ this mask?”
“Yes,” said the poem, “Why not?”
But he was tired of masks.
He had lived too long with them.
He snatched up the poem and stuck it to his face.
Its screams were muffled, it wept, it tried to be cynical.
It wriggled into his eyes and mouth.
Into his blood it wriggled.
The next day his friends did not recognise him
They were afraid of him.
The mask was utterly transparent.
“Now it’s the right mask,” said the poem.
“The right mask.” It clung to him lovingly
And never let go again.