Brian Patten (7 February 1946 / Liverpool / England)
The Right Mask
One night a poem came up to a poet
From now on, it said, you must wear a mask.
What kind of mask? asked the poet.
A rose mask, said the poem.
I've used it already, said the poet,
I've exhausted it.
Then wear the mask that's made out of
a nightingale's song, use that mask.
Oh, it's an old mask, said the poet,
it's all used up.
Nonsense, said the poem, it's the perfect mask,
still, try on the god mask,
now that mask illuminates heaven.
It's a tight mask, said the poet,
and the stars crawl about in it like ants.
Then try on the troubador's mask, or the singer's mask,
try on all the popular masks.
I have, said the poet, but they fit so easily.
The poem was getting impatient,
it stamped its feet like a child,
it screamed. Then try on your own face,
try the one mask that terrifies,
the mask only you could possibly use,
the mask only you could wear out.
The poet tore at his face til it bled,
this mask? he yelled, this mask?
Yes, said the poem, yes.
But the poet was tired of masks,
he had lived too long with them,
he snatched at the poem and stuck it in his face.
Its screams were muffled, it wept, it tried to be lyrical,
it wriggled into his eyes and mouth.
Next day his friends were afraid of him,
he looked so distorted.
Now it's the right mask, said the poem, the right mask.
It clung to him lovingly and never let go again.
Brian Patten's Other Poems
- And Nothing Is Ever As You Want It To Be
- Doubt shall not make an end of you
- Geography Lesson
- Gust Becos I Cud Not Spel
- I have changed the numbers on my watch
- In Tintagel Graveyard
- Minister for Exams
- Mr Ifonly
- Nor the Sun its Selling Power
- One Another’s Light
- Party Piece
- Remembering snow
- Simple lyric
- Sometimes it happens
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