By Stephen Kingsnorth
Genetic tree, pooled influence, that xylem flow from roots beneath, the tap that feeds, mycorrhiza, gives fibre to our feeble deeds, hard graft applied where stock is tired - these masks and manes that launch our path. But nothing fixes final mould, though zeitgeist seeks to overlay; our choices set by grace and will, with serendipity, where sown. I’ve known those born, wealth privilege - that idiom of silver spoon, poor stewards in community; while others, valueless but worth their skimpy weight in gold and stone. And so we live, bequeathed by past, free agents loaned for good or ill, to love the globe, inhabitants; but will we pay the debt we owe?
The masks I’ve worn have changed the face of diner, public transport, shop. The bland and cheap, as doctors wore, some patriotic, artists’ flair, have caused a stir, ungracious stare. I’ve studied eyes, as pupil’s taught - in contradiction of thought rôle - whether this space was known before? The smile was wasted, not though frown, and chuckles stifled, hot air jokes, that strained the tape as athlete might. This is no monster, scary case, but barrier from such outside, my benefit as those around. At some stage, when the scene is set, I’ll swop the mask, another one, the face of character I act, pretend my skin is not my clay and make-up will sustain my play.
How many did I wear each day, encounters, on the telephone, for voice declaims as actor might, even as I can roll my eyes or mouth true feelings, frown and sigh, dramatic irony at home. Courtesy, my aspect trained from early days in family - my mother swore, damn, ‘sorry’, too - I thought rare hyphenated term - jab nurse, her worst, ‘you little pig’, both unaware the strength of it. So on the threshold, step or face, they both were polished, at their best, for they presented to the street, and scuff marks should not dull the glow; those salesmen wrong to think a kill, found smiling pearl, that rosebud mouth, no, each, religion, dusters, mags. My dread remains that welling up, the balance, taught confidant smile, but truth will out, first day at school when pupils cannot hide away, and those who love will suffer too, though for the best, remember, hurts. If only seen in teenage angst, when lids were closed and sleep was last.
Thank goodness for the masks we wear, when we don’t know inside ourselves, for our protection are the smears that glaze the mirror, haze the fears. What is so bad, ‘I like the hat’ when asked by granny in her pride; abuse the milliner outside but tell her tailor’s dummy wide? That’s why we learn our social skill, to temper views, so not to wound, a principal of care and kind, not principle, truth, always mine. It makes one cross, or even three and countless lore, too many laws, if gracious living is to be found more than pomp or flattery. So choose the mask and play the game, speak only what can praise again, as build the confidence required - or hang the hat and head in shame.
Stephen Kingsnorth (Cambridge M.A., English & Religious Studies), retired to Wales from
ministry in the Methodist Church with Parkinson’s Disease, has had pieces published by on-
line poetry sites, printed journals and anthologies, most recently Academy of the Heart and
Mind, The Parliament Literary Magazine, Poetry Potion, Grand Little Things, The Poet