Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Spirit Behind

—Tom Goff, Carmichael

It was a simple mask of beaten silver,
from Taxco, perhaps, but its rotundity,
saturnine oval, betokened—dim profundity?
For all its perfect curvature showed pewter

plainness, the unevenness of ellipse
bonded to an invisible underpinning.
While muscles hug the mask of the face in winning
smiles or crumpling sorrows, sad collapse

or joy was not for this wall-hanging shape.
One sensed a spirit immanent, behind,
beneath the smoothly solid casque—a mind
dilating windy-sinister as a drape.

Inert, it beat my child-mind unstolid
with questions for Señor Mask of wrath and picque,
as if in art museums we were to speak:
Why is this monumental bronze not solid

all the way through; what carelessness in the sculptor!?
Now, hindsight faintly summons its mystique:
the way the ovoid slackened and grew weak,
flattened like carrion trodden by the raptor,

yet brooded over a strange new ellipse-ache,
egg born of the large forehead, a weakening jaw
that formed a maw now birthing a smaller jaw
unhinging into giddily pliant shape,

face drawn down into the archetypal dream,
the cranium, nude and bulbous, of an alien
spaceman, silent on Martian Dariens,
with something too of Munch’s sharp silent scream.

It breathed “Oaxaca” in my boyhood ear.
It loomed like Mom’s print of Oaxaca dancers
caught midstep by the chant of the entrancer,
heads noosed in giant contrivances of feather.

The dimmed, scuffed silver head my young soon-mother
brought as one brings all omens home from travel
seemed visibly to shrivel and unravel,
eyebrow-and mustache-peels a ribbony pother.

The austere and dingy glint, that of a flask
bespeaking polish, maybe alcohol,
held nothing artisan or folderol:
it swallowed the moon, was Man in the Iron Mask.

The dimmed and silver head, its sheen corrupt,
now murmurs loudly what it whispered then,
Rise, rise to a place among the ranks of men,
and learn to do—a breaking off abrupt—

so I followed the Mexican route my mother blazed,
paths beckoning bright or dim, and sometimes crazed…


Thanks, Tom Goff and Janet Pantoja, for today's poems about masks (máscaras). Our Seed of the Week to kick off our new (and hopefully improved) Kitchen is Masks, and it’s a give-away. Send a poem about masks to or P.O. Box 762, Pollock Pines, CA 95726, and I'll send you any rattlechap of your choosing! (Go to the "rattlechaps" page on for a complete listing.) Give-away SOWs have deadlines; this one is midnight tomorrow, Sunday, January 31.

Two upcoming poetry festivals, close and not-so-close:

•••Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness, March 10-13:

Split This Rock invites poets, writers, artists, activists, dreamers, and all concerned world citizens to Washington, DC, for poetry, community building, and creative transformation as our country continues to grapple with two wars, a crippling economic crisis, and other social and environmental ills. The festival will feature readings, workshops, panel discussions, youth programming, film, parties, and activists—opportunities to speak out, make common cause, imagine a way forward, and celebrate the many ways that poetry can act as an agent for social change. Featuring these visionary voices and many others: Chris Abani, Lillian Allen, Sinan Antoon, Francisco Aragón, Jan Beatty, Martha Collins, Cornelius Eady, Martín Espada, Andrea Gibson, Allison Hedge Coke, Natalie Illum, Fady Joudah, Toni Asante Lightfoot, Richard McCann, Jeffrey McDaniel, Lenelle Moïse, Nancy Morejón, Mark Nowak, Wang Ping, Patricia Smith, Arthur Sze, Quincy Troupe, and Bruce Weigl. Register today! Rates rise February 10. Details at:

•••Pleasanton Poetry, Prose & the Arts Festival, April 17-18:

Got poetry or prose on the mind? Then attend the 9th Annual Pleasanton Poetry, Prose & the Arts Festival on Saturday and Sunday, April 17-18 at the Pleasanton Senior Center, 5353 Sunol Blvd., Pleasanton. The brochure and additional information, including info about registration for the poetry contest (deadline for contest and for early registration is March 15), is available at The Festival will feature guest speakers, poetry and prose workshops for adults, youth and teen workshops, writing contests and an award ceremony. There are also be a Linked Visual and Poetry contest and display Downtown and at the Festival, a fine art exhibit and Literary Row where you can meet local and nationally known authors. Contact Deborah Grossman for more information:


—Janet Pantoja, Woodinville, WA

Life is like a mask—
comedic and at once tragic.
One day you are deliriously happy—
yet on another day, you're terribly sad.
What has changed your mask?


Cinquain Pattern #1

Comedic, tragic
Today deliriously happy
Another day terribly sad


Cinquain Pattern #2

Comedic, tragic
Singing, crying, laughing
Hiding what we really are


Cinquain Pattern #3

of many kinds
hiding our true selfhood
behind mortal man's dusty face
the mask



The mask is
something we ought to
think about.
duality of mortal
man—sad happy—real?

Mortal man
made of dust and dirt
has it thus.
What if this mask were not true?
Man is spiritual.



Masks can be terrifying—
A Frankenstein monster, a ghost close upon its heels,
shuffles along, earth trembling at each step.
Dracula flashes his white fangs as a zombie drags up the rear.
Death warmed over?
Halloween fun at best.
Are we truly frightened?
Not really.
No identities have been stolen.
Who is behind those masks?

Today's LittleNip:

His fear imposes the faces within him on the faces without.

—Stephen Dobyns