“Nine Masks” – Poetry by Gregory Crosby

Old Woman with Masks (Theatre of Masks) – James Ensor, 1889

We love our masks here at FLAPPERHOUSE, so of course we fell hard for “Nine Masks,” a sequence of mythical, mystical poems that Gregory Crosby contributed to our Spring 2017 issue.

{ X }

{ Mask of Born-to-be-head-of-the-world }

WHEN YOU PULL THE LIGHT ASIDE, THE DARKNESS
shines through, sable & smoky, a river
at midnight. A baby in bulrushes
doesn’t cry but makes a sound not “just like”
rushing water, but is rushing water:
a sweet gurgle of time, a waterfall
of eternity. History is the
barrel & we are all in it except
you, child. You are watching from the shore,
staring down into the mist you adore,
the one place where you can’t see anything,
the one place you’re free to forget your face,
imperious & blank. Out on the banks,
the daughters of Pharaoh stare into space.

 

{ Mask of a Supernatural Being }

THERE IS NO REASON WHY I SHOULD NOT BE,
but reason precludes me. I am proximate
without being near. I am forever
unclear in my perfect clarity.
I am great & terrible & worthless.
Anyone can wear me out, anywhere.
I dream your haunts more than I haunt your dreams.
I am the false face made real by the seam.

So why do you believe me when I tell
the tall tale of the heart’s desire?
Why do you believe me when I tell
the beginning of the beginning of
the beginning, without end? Why do you
cover your eyes with eyes as empty as mine?
 

{ Echo Mask With Five Mouths }

IF YOU KISS ME, MISS ME, MISS ME.
If you miss me, kiss me, kiss me.
If you want me, taunt me, taunt me.
If you taunt me, want me, want me.
If you are me, leave me, be me.

 

{ Mask of the Wife of the Spirit of the Sea }

HE NEVER SHUTS UP, HE NEVER SITS STILL.
He would have rather married Luna, but
long-distance relationships never work.
When we met, I thought he had hidden depths;
alas, he does. When I want some quiet,
I slip into something tight, 5,000
fathoms, full of blissful, permanent night.
Then he texts me to come up and “see the
storm.” Okay, fine. Sorry, do I sound like
a fishwife? I shouldn’t complain. I got
what I wanted: a horizon, one where
I need never reach a shore. Smooth sailing
it’s not, but what would be the point of calm
in this life? Dead calm, I calls it. Give me
the wall on the other side of that eye;
his eye, as like to swim as drown in it.

 

{ Mask of a Hermaphrodite }

YES, BUT DON’T YOU SEE–
it’s not a mask, but my face,
turning to the sun
because the moon
is lit by it.

 

{ Mask Depicting an Octopus }

NEVER LET ON HOW INTELLIGENT
you really are.

There’s a sucker worn
every minute,

a grasp that does not
exceed its reach.

An inkjet, printing out
Esc. Esc. Esc.

There is the patience
of camouflage,

the camouflage of
patience. Even as

you squeeze the whole
of Being into

a crack no wider than
yourself, the words

the tank has not been built
that can hold me

light up your brain.
They think

you are happy, that you are
“working your trap.”

They think you couldn’t
possibly know which

hole drains to the ocean.
They think

no one knows where
the ocean is

once they’ve been
removed from it.

They can never know
what it is

to be held in a mind
not their own:

to extend, to retract,
to bloom, to fade,

to grab hold,
to let go,

to embody
the embrace

of a thought
that nothing

can express.

 

{ Mask Representing the Singer of the House of Myths }

IT ONLY FITS
over your mouth.
Your breath comes through
empty little eyes.

Like smoke, they come:
the faces you
will never wear,
nor ever forget.

Everyone stares
at your blue lips,
even when they
are not moving. 

 

{ Mask Representing a Combination of a Human & Owl’s Face }

WE CAME OUT OF THE GARAGE & HEARD THEM
hooting high in the silhouettes of trees,
watched them sway from the force of their landing
on branches stripped white by winter moonlight,
beautiful & stupid & far above us.
We watched them as if we could see their eyes.
Submitted for your appraisal: behold,
an owl who is not wise, watching an
unwise owl, who knows nothing except
how to turn his head without moving,
how to pretend he can hear the heartbeat
of something tiny, something trying not
to be heard. An owl who, who, who, who.
Even in the daytime. Even in dreams.

 

{ Transformation Mask }

IS THIS IT? Saying how bored I am with everything but you (we must not say so, yet we do). Is this it? Looking back at twenty years as twenty years stare back. Is this it? Fearing & hoping that it will always never be the same. Is this it? The wasted chronicle of an ever-shifting looking glass (the game that moves as you play, that moves if you don’t play). Is this it? A tightrope walker one inch above the ground. Is this it? A gold star upon a cold eyelid. Is this it? A memento mori made in a sweatshop. Is this it? A most unbecoming becoming, a broken string, an eyehole in the wrong place. Is this it? My father’s blank face. Is this it? My brother’s vanished smile. Is this it? Not even a face, not even that. Is this it? Kindness, resignation, the sad bliss of impure luck. Is this it? The one you’ve worn before… that you’re wearing now. That you’re wearing now. That you’re wearing now. That you’re wearing now, staring through the dark window, through the lamplight that leans against the dark window, through the reflection from the lamplight of the ghost that is the world to come.

{ X }

GREGORY CROSBY is the author of the chapbooks Spooky Action at a Distance (The Operating System) and The Book of Thirteen (Yes Poetry). Depending on the time of day, he is either a cheerful pessimist or a gloomy optimist.

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