Why do people wear masks? Is it to put on a good face for the people that are in front of us, no matter what may lie beneath? Is it because we are vulnerable and seek to protect ourselves? Do we just want to show others what they want to see? No matter the reason, every single person wears at least one mask on a daily basis…
My eyes were heavy and I could not look at the sun because it was no longer yellow like our picture books with dancing girls and boys who held hands around a world too small for people. It looked orange from where I stood and it burned when I looked up and so I did not. Orange in a white sky made my eyes heavy and since I could not look at the sun, since I could not envision my face in the clouds with purple and orange barrettes, bouncing up and down on a couch I should not have, bouncing up and down was a restless head or popsicles or sunflowers or other things the clouds never made, I stopped. I stopped but they commanded that I keep walking and I did since stopping would mean spending more than three seconds near the rotting carcasses with frozen petrified faces, the boy with the bright blue shirt who had no hand, the refugees who striped the streets and seeded the farm roads with no destination in sight but tears that fell under an open sun we walked and did not know where we were going exasperated by the heat and betrayed by nightly prayers unanswered it seemed and “where we goin’?” I asked and nowhere was their answer though it did not make sense that we were making such a fuss on a journey that was not somewhere. I stopped counting the days forgot what Momma’s voice sounded like they did not know which soldiers were good and which were rebels could not hand us punishments for our whining for fear it would be our last did not know where we were going so I cut my eyes and slowed down and “Come now, chile’, keep up,” is what Ma told me my grandmother acted as though she did not see the bodies or did not smell the blood, or did not care that I had stopped walking because it hurt to look up at the orange sun and clouds that drew nothing but rain my left shoe fell off and I wanted Ma to notice but she did not so I kicked off my right shoe and it hit her heel in front of me and she turned around but instead of picking up my shoe and demanding the entire caravan to “STOP AT ONCE” walking to this nowhere, she pulled my hand to keep up with her and “Come, ma chile, keep up” sounded like bullets against an abrasive surface of nails and sand as we strolled enveloped by men and women like disassembled lines and shapes, gone to heaven now they told us, under the open sun. They were not drums. My feet were bare and I did not tell my father because I was afraid he would not know what to say or I did not tell Wiande or Kula because I was afraid they would tell my father so I walked—with the caravan of my father and the girls and Ma and Matauma and Brother John and two pastors and a neighbour and some members of our church under an orange sun and clouds to nowhere we were walking, I was barefoot, down this dusty road of trampled bodies, and the boy with the bright blue shirt with no hand, and broken stories and pretending they all and none of them were there. Pastor Brown pointed to something approaching us in the distance—it was a tank, they said, it was a tank—and in one second my frail body was in two places, one was on the road, one was jumping over the bodies gone to heaven now—two and I was—we were off the road and my bare feet were being dragged through a muddy field and (where were my shoes) as Kula cried and I wondered what I did to the sun for it to hate me as it did and the monstrous stalks were slapped with bullets and talking leaves said run and do not look back and blood poured out of the bottom of my feet as thorns pushed their way in and running and running and running and my father was moving so fast and pulling my hand that the muddy waters were now my pool my baptism into one second past girlhood past innocence past things the clouds never made and my feet lost the ground beneath me so my knees now ran along with my father and water now ran along my face and the lace at the bottom of my dress got left somewhere behind me with my shoes and the tank and my girlhood and the shooting that did not stop but came toward me under the open orange suns and clouds that said nothing more than rain.
Possible pull quotes, if needed:
“I could not envision my face in the clouds with purple and orange barrettes”
“and in one second my frail body was in two places”
If she were not born human she would have been a panther with steel paws and brick for flesh she would have licked over them black lips and whiskers when her gut overflowed when a catch beckoned or when she wanted to fuck. If she were not born human she would have been a hunter that shimmied about thickened masses of branches that dug their own roots and a priestess queen of an elegiac jungle where mocking birds fed her songs she swallowed and longed for nothing.
But Mrs. Dalloway was born human.
Grey with hunched shoulders
Mostly wrinkled and drowning
Searches the duchesses’garbage
For relics and recognitions
Of a past life
I’m in love with a foreign memory, a phantom,
a figure I’ve only known in glimpses
whose existence is not certain.
Only alive in her gifted memories, in the memories of another
can you live on.
But in my soul, I’ve known you.
We’ve lived a thousand years, a thousand lives
and I die a little every time
because I know it will never be more than in my mind.
Across enemy lines all I see is destruction
and my heart screams to leave these feelings behind.
But her memory reminds
and I’m thrust back into hopeless longing.
It doesn’t help that you’ve drawn me so close.
I call out for release that never comes
because I know I want to see.
So I venture into No-Man’s-Land
I step across the boundaries
and leave myself vulnerable to your debilitating attacks.
I’m drunk with the idea of peace.
And you taunt me. With invisible glances
and then retreat just as quickly,
like the chameleon’s tongue.
The chameleon, you’re ever-changing,
Looking this way, that way
trying to find a way in
or a way out.
Yes, you always walk alone
your back to the wall,
blending with background
but standing out farther than you know.
But you know.
Because you’ve put yourself there.
Always upstage, away,
but always centre, always seen
So here you stand
a statue with many faces
a Mona Lisa smile hiding the secrets of your lost world.
Only visible through the glimpses
the phantom movements of your hopelessness and fear.
But still you draw me with your intelligent pain,
your quiet bitterness.
Because inside, you know I have the tools
and you know I love to use them.
But you won’t let me assess the damage.
Those true deep cracks
what’s behind the smile
your chameleon nature
your aloof charm,
what is your true brokenness?
Or do I want to see it?
Can I only love the foreign memories?
And live with those veiled glimpses?
The mysteries in that smile?
The war-torn wallflower tendencies?
Can I remain sane in that hopeful uncertainty?
Or do I press on
passed the bloody barbed wire and
rotting hearts from battles won and lost?
Press on with no shield, no weapons
just love and hopes of peace?
I will I press on because through the rosy glasses I don
I know the truth.
I know that you hide
with your camouflage, your secret smiles, and your silent screaming.
I know that even as you retreat in pride
you call out just the same for me to cross the lines
and save you from your war within.
I know that behind
your broken soul is your broken heart.
And I know I have the tools.
But will you let me use them?
The carnival is near, it’s proximal and imminent
This time last year, it was two weeks away
And again this year, a future fortnight removed
Annually, this festival, it rolls into town
It burns hot and fierce, then burns out and cools
But the flame, while it lasts, is the light of the year
By the end it dims out, and is nearly forgotten
But each year new memories are rekindled and ignited
The carnival remembers them and refuels their glory
A cyclical nature, is revealed by the tale
Years always go by, but the legend fails to fade
The myth, it continues, from previous ashes
A little stoking is all, that may be required
And again the carnival, combusts with great heat
Then leaves for fifty weeks before yet another triumphant return
Sex. We all do it at some point or another, so why is the discussion around ‘sex’ still so taboo? Speaking from a personal standpoint, the majority of my knowledge surrounding sex didn’t come from what I learned in school. It came from what I learned during my lived experience. Why is this? Is it natural to learn as you go, or should there be some foundation of knowledge before you reach your first sexual encounter?
I have never hidden who I am and where I am from. I grew up in a small city of 14,000 and had a strong rural influence in the earlier years of my life. Being born and raised in the Ottawa Valley does that to you. Once I reached that time in my life where it was time to move on to university, I had many choices to consider. I could have gone to a place similar to my home of Pembroke, Ontario. There would be little to no culture shock and I would fit in well. When it came down to decide, I went a different way. I wanted to be exposed to more. Around four years ago, I decided to embark on a four-year-long exploration in none other than Waterloo, Ontario.
Devouring bold coffee bean with milk, sweating shamelessly from the heavy heat, I begin to prepare myself for the day of reading ahead. Once I find a place to rest my back, I observe the enormity of the text in front of me. Tracing its worn, elegant spine, I am not intimidated by the endless scrawl inside. If today there are images to be seen and pondered about, I make sure to spend time looking. I contemplate the cover art, tail end synopsis, remarks from critics, and, finally, the “dedicated to” section, glimpsing into the life of a writer I am already in awe of by virtue of insisting on the tangibility, complexity, and relevance of storytelling…
This here is my love,
Or shall I assume. She whispers
So my heart can resume. The thoughts
In my head
Scream loud and absurd. I lay here
On top my bed
Wished I could be cured. You arrive
With a smile,
A pen and a pad. You coax right on through
My petty denial.
You act as if glad, that I speak
Of her again.
I try to show you, you cross your chest
And mumble amen.
She is not new, she stands here
You nod your head, and jot down your
note and then flee.
I come out of my bed, and run
To the door,
Look back at my love, and look
Down to the floor.
My sweet morning dove, they will never
Get to grasp
How real you are, as long as you
Wear that mask.
I look at how far, you are down
And wish that once soon, this locked
Door will fall.
By Amara Ngozi
I don this mask in protest,
I become anonymous,
I hide from tears of liberty
dispensed by canister.
I am hidden behind the face of the people
and I am the face not afraid to be seen.
If you can breathe the free air,
remember the filter-fed taste of our resistance
and the façades we put up to tear down others.
You’re bleeding, and something’s burning on the stove
She’s got something that glows in the dark
Carrie, you’ve never looked more beautiful
Than when you sang out the word ‘sorry’
On that stage from the pit of your stomach
Some words are not born of tongues and teeth
A queen shining in someone else’s blood
You are the omega and the alpha,
Singing delta in the fluorescent light
You couldn’t have known the way the world turns to look
Each time a girl grows old
She’s sucking back smoke and semen
Like a vacuum by the time she’s twenty
When you reach that final mile
It’s nothing but body fluids and breast milk
Forget your finery at home
Leave your dresses on the tiles in the bathroom
In front of the mirror you once called friend
Fill the bathtubs with perfume and flower petals
There is nothing in this world for the glory-filled
For the gory child who grows into a vessel to float on the top of the water
Until there’s nothing left to do but to fill her with time and with salt
And everything before this was an instrumental track
Was a losing battle
Though you returned each night unscathed
Until the moment your legs were no help
Crossed or otherwise
Clean your face, or leave the stains Carrie
We won’t cry.
We are like you.
And small broken bird,
Gentle gleaming gem,
You are no euphemism
You can tell the poets to fuck themselves for the fallacy
The truth is scary,
You can’t wear that white gown like you don’t know the difference
Between a virgin and a bride.
In some doorways, in some cities
In countries you’ve never been to,
You can see the mourning family
Dresses all in white
The faces on the ceiling disappear when you blink
The feelings you are feeling disappear when you think
So they tell me not to cut my palms ‘til they’re red
So they tell me there’s a place to go when I’m dead
They tell me I’m behaving bad
They tell me that I’m like my dad
They tell me that I’m not in love
They tell me that I’m not in love
The faces on the ceiling lie to you when they smile
Smells like home, haven’t been there in a while
Time for hibernating, It’s getting too late for this world
Time for hibernating, No more talking with the girls
They tell me I’m behaving bad
They tell me that I’m like my dad
They tell me that I’m not in love
They tell me that I’m not in love
I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love, I’m not in love,
The biosphere is an interconnected web of tangled relations
And unraveling one thread can have effects across nations
So let us be resourceful, and use the birch bark,
But with consideration for others, who will later visit this park
Let us always remember to conservatively act
As we join arms together in a sustainable pact
We’re in Venice and I’m eavesdropping on German tourists.
There’s eight of us in a shop that’s tiny even by Venetian standards. The shopkeeper-slash-mask-maker, a greying Italian in a black apron smudged here and there with gold sparkles; two middle-aged German women; my family and me.
Clumped together in a corner so we’re almost touching, my siblings and I admire a wall of masks. A sun-face, a moon-face and a star-face beam down on us. A cello-woman gazes lovingly at a saxophone-man. A cat and a dog hang unblinkingly side by side. Each one is carefully crafted and unique. It’s breathtaking, but I’m only half-absorbed. The other part of me is listening in on the conversation between the German women.
They admire the masks, discuss their itinerary, disapprove of the disorder of the Italians in general. It’s funny, and strangely comforting. I mean no harm. Having lived in Germany the past eleven months I can hardly help but understand what they’re saying.
I feel like I’m undercover: playing the Canadian while hiding the part of me that can masquerade as a German. A disguise over my disguise. I’m Rosalind playing Ganymede playing Rosalind.
It’s not that I was in any way ashamed of my Canadian identity, but not drawing attention to it was just easier while I was abroad. People treat you differently if they know you’re foreign. One of my housemates came to me once, asking if I had a hairdryer. I paused briefly, trying to think of the words to respond and she continued impatiently, Hairdryer? You know…hairdryer? and mimed drying her hair complete with sound effects. I had understood her fine. It just took me a moment to figure out what to say. I’m not stupid, I wanted to shout, just give me the chance to answer you!
Other people think it’s hilarious to make fun of your home country. Hey, isn’t Canada just basically the 51st state? Or how about this gem: You know what Canada sounds like? Keiner da!* It’s true, right? There’s, like, no one there.
My disguise was almost a way of marking my progress. If people were surprised when I told them I was Canadian, it meant my German was getting better—that my accent was less noticeable, or I was culturally adept enough to pass as a native. It felt like success. And when you’re culturally confounded, feeling like you’re stumbling around in a dark that everyone else has no trouble navigating, those tiny moments of validation are the bits of light that keep you going. You might not understand everything. You might not always feel like you’re understood. But you know you’re getting closer.
Now, with my family again, I feel foreign. My English comes slowly, difficultly. I didn’t believe it was possible of my mother tongue. I construct sentences backwards, used to German grammar. I forget words. It’s not the same language it was a year ago…I have to learn new slang and cultural nuances. I have no idea what a ‘selfie’ is. I’m with the people who should make me feel most at home in the world, but I’ve never felt so alone. I’m Rosalind pretending to be Rosalind, and I’m not even sure who that is any more.
I turn around to leave the shop.
Entschuldigen Sie, bitte. I tell the German women, as I scoot around them. Excuse me, please. Their eyes widen in surprise, but they smile with the unexpected delight of stumbling across someone who speaks their native language. It gives me hope. Maybe I can learn to reconcile my two identities. Maybe I don’t have to pick one or the other. Maybe I can be both Rosalind and Ganymede and still be Carina.
So tell me, I ask my sister as we depart, what exactly is a selfie?
*German for ‘no one there’
The butler’s white head poked through the door after a smart tap, “Your wife wishes an audience m’lord.”
The man put down his pen and moved in his chair, motioning for the butler to allow her in. He had been meaning to see her since he came home from his trip and he felt a little guilty that it had been left to her to come to him.
As she entered, he reached into his desk drawer and pulled out a little present. When he looked back up, his eyes relaxed as he saw his beautiful wife, dressed and ready to go to the opera, verily dripping furs and pearls and her soft brown hair done back in puffs of waves. Her appleblossom lips curved up delicately as she curtsied, glad to see his handsome face as well.
He stood and kissed her hand and she said sweetly in her hushed voice, “My lord.”
He suddenly remembered the present and he fumbled for a moment as he reached around and handed it to her, “I-I found while I was on exploration on the islands and thought of you.”and he handed her the large spiral sea shell.
She turned it in her small hands and felt its rough exterior and twisted frame, “It reminded you of me?”she asked, though her smile never changed.
The man grinned back brightly and was glad she liked it. He stood straighter and she fingered the shell, the pause in conversation stretching.
It had been necessary, she reminded herself, necessary. And both were devoted to duty and thought the other lovely and sweet and noble and kind and… and kind…
“I was wondering if Your Grace would like to accompany me to the opera?”She asked as she always did, her eyes liquid and looking up.
He bit back his immediate decline this time. He disliked opera and theatre and still she asked for his company faithfully every time she went. It had almost become a game of sorts. Every time she asked, he would decline with a kiss to her hand, which he did so now, but answered instead with “I would be honoured.”
Her eyes lit in surprise, but she just curtsied, “Then I shall see you there, my lord.”
From the balcony, the singers on the stage looked like light on water, as the audience glittered in glass and gemstone.
The singing was so fluid and magnificent, like the wind, and brought tears to her eyes.
He watched her from her side and smiled, realizing how the tears from her eyes hung on her lashes, glinting in the candlelight before they shone down her cheek in smooth lines.
Without thinking too much about it, he slipped his hands into hers. She almost started, looking down suddenly, causing tears to drop like diamonds on to his hands. Staring at the hands, she blinked slowly as if squeezing away the rest of the tears, and looked back to the stage, contently listening to the music as it grew to a crescendo.
I find it hard to believe that the woman staring out at the ocean could be my younger sister. How could she possibly have been the young child that used to love tickling her nose with the ends of people’s hair? How could she possibly have been the young girl that scared me into running out of the house when she intoned in an ominous voice, what’s the password, from The Crack, a secret hiding place that we had created by pushing our beds together?