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The Masks We Wear


It used to be

the masks we wore

were of the metaphorical variety

Invisible filters we carefully place

to accentuate a facet of ourselves

to meet expectations

to hide our flaws

Changing masks an invisible act

as we screen ourselves

for each new encounter

each new social media post


But the world has changed

and now the masks we wear

are the literal kind.

Sewn with our own two hands

a bandanna hastily dug out of a closet corner

disposable paper handed out by an employer

cut up old t-shirt with repurposed hair ties

Bought off Etsy in a carefully chosen fabric

taken from the garage of woodworking tools,

repurposed for everyday life

made with love by a friendly quilter


Like the metaphorical masks,

these varied expressions of a new normal

speak volumes without a word

Couture or makeshift

Workhorse or disposable

Worn under the nose or over

hanging off one ear

The absent mask a sign of

lack of access

fear of racial profiling

skepticism or defiance


Like places where other masks fall away

their absence also a secret language

signals of closeness and access

The language of flowers and fans of old

gives way to an etiquette of masks

new rules for what is polite and courteous

what is rude and callous

It's just the beginning

but anything so ubiquitous (we hope)

will bring new ways of judging

by the style of one's face covering (or lack thereof)


The physical effect, much like the pressure

of filtered photos and curated selves

stifling, muffling, claustrophobic

Blocking communication

Restricting access to lips to read

Diminishing voices headed to hearing aids

Hiding smiles and grimaces alike

Barriers pre-existing

growing higher

that which helps protect

also excludes


What should be a civil conversation

of etiquette and style

of relationship and access

Instead has become accusations

of oppression and trampled rights

worthy of armed protest

and threats against those earning minimum wage

A sign of government control, overreach

the same rationale that calls for less regulation

Rolling back the very rules that keep us safe

Whether water quality or disease prevention


Why do we fight the things that protect us?

What do we really fear?

But, hey, at least y'all will stop telling me to smile.

Sarah Kingsbery

May 3, 2020

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