1. About the Dead Man and His Masks
When the dead man thinks himself exposed, he puts on a mask.
Thinking himself exposed, the dead man puts on a mask. 1
Before he needed a mask, he wore his medals on his chest and his heart on his sleeve.
The dead man wears the mask of tomfoolery, the mask of assimilation, the mask of erasure, the scarred mask, the
teen mask, the mask with the built in oh, the laughing mask, the crying mask, the secretive mask, the telltale
mask, and of course the death mask.
The dead man's masks are as multifarious as the wiles of a spider left to work in the bushes. 2
To the dead man, a spider's web is also a mask, and he wears it.
The trail of a slug is a mask, and the vapors from underground fires are a mask, and the dead light of sunset is a mask,
and the dead man wears each of them.
The dead man curtained off the world, now everything between them is a mask.
He weaves masks of sand and smoke, of refracted light and empty water.
The dead man takes what the world discards: hair and bones, urine and blood, ashes and sewage.
The dead man, reconstituted, will not stay buried, reappearing in disguises that fool no one yet cast doubt.
He comes to the party wearing the face of this one or that one, scattering the shadows as he enters.
When there is no one face, no two faces, no fragility of disposition, no anticipation, no revelation at midnight, then
naturally years pass without anyone guessing the identity of the dead man. 3
It is no longer known if the dead man was at the funeral.
2. More About the Dead Man and His Masks
The dead man's mask prefigures all ism's such as surrealism, patriotism, cronyism, futurism, Darwinism, barbarism,
dadaism, Catholicism, Judaism, etc.
Many of the dead man's masks are museum pieces: final expressions from Death Row, those startled at the last second
in Pompeii or Dresden or Hiroshima, faces surprised in the trenches, the terror of furnaces and lime, a look
formed from suffocation or lengthy bleeding or embalming.
The dead man apologizes for leaving a sewing machine and an umbrella on the operating table. 4
The dead man catalogs war memorials, potter's fields, he takes stock of undiscovered suicides, pseudonyms and all
instances of anonymity.
The dead man's masks are composed of incongruous materials accidentally combined and are as rare and wild as
certain edible fungi that closely resemble poisonous mushrooms.
He doffs his hat to long hair, moustaches and beards, but does not give himself away.
He greets the grieving, the relieved, the startled, the victimized and the triumphant without letting on.
The dead man's hands are twice as expressive in gloves, his feet deprived of their arches gain momentum in shoes, and
his mask shields him from those who wish to trade knowledge for truth. 5
The dead man's first mask was a hand over his mouth. 6
Copyright © 1996
Electronic Poetry Review