Still with Us in the Village

 after viewing a mask
from Papua, New Guinea

I am the dark part,
so black I am beyond black,
beyond all the words
we know for fear, for loss,
even for death.
I am an animal you cannot name.
You have never seen me,
but you know I roam
the chambers of your heart,
swim the streams of your blood,
climb the ladder of your ribs.
Like Jacob, I sleep beneath
it on a stone.

At migration time,
I make no sound. You feel
only an inner shifting,
something like paws
on snow, something
like fringe in the wind.
Part wolf? Part skunk?
Part knobbly-brained squirrel?
My eyes are convex
or concave, depending
on the light. I have no tongue.
There is no need for me
to speak. The body
speaks for me.
The body punctuates
my thought. See the hand
go up in front of the face?
See the feet slip backwards?
See the body drop
to its knees?

That’s my sorrow
prowling the long grass
of your memory,
my grief streaking the winter
sky you walk beneath
on an April day.


Anita Skeen

Image of Mask
       Papua, New Guinea mask. Photo by Stephanie
       Wottreng, MSU Museum Collections.

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