Subtitle: The Similitude of COVID-19 and Color
Sub-subtitle: In blessed remembrance of Paul Laurence Dunbar
I wear a mask to protect you from me and me from you,
by thoughtless unshielded closeness,
even that wrought of long-time-no-see goodwill,
dare unwittingly share the virus that sickens and kills.
there is nothing new in this for me,
for all of my life, I’ve worn the mask.
Invisible, I know, to you,
but I feel it on my face whenever I smile,
tho’ my pain of living be too great to bear.
But, truth to tell, I do it for you
who cannot know and understand
(would you try if you could?)
what it’s like to be considered
as less than you
(tho’ I know better, after so long, sometimes, I think it, too)
just because I was born me.
And, more truth to tell, I do it, too, for me.
For to try to explain my experience to you
and have you, once again,
unseeing, stare at me
with disbelieving hands (I see them) cover your uncomprehending ears
with fretted mind shrouded in blanket wordlessness,
for you know not what to say,
(when, waiting, my words evaporate into dispassionate space)
to behold, in your widened, glistening eye, the spark of thought
the quickening of your lips as you,
clearing your throat,
change the subject…
All of that is yet another dismissal,
another link in a chain that still binds me, grinds me down.
Your ignorance may prove bliss for you,
but it is, for me,
another aide-mémoire of why I wear the mask.
© 2020 PRA
 Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906), American poet, novelist, and playwright, among many works, wrote, We Wear the Mask. The short poem is a poignant expression of his experience as a black man in America, who, striving to survive the horror of oppression, metaphorically spoke of wearing a mask – a smiling, joyful, brave face – to conceal the anguish of his suffering.