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The Rooster Mask

ISSUE:  Winter 1997

In the room where my childhood ended
warheads of frost flared from panes.
A Time photo of Kennedy and Khrushchev
hung over a tattered map of Cuba.

The music teacher hunched over his piano,
gold tooth glinting under a hive of lights.
His black hair shone like a coffin.
His fingers chiseled at keys of ice.

He stalked the rows and demanded
I play the rooster in the Christmas play.
So I taped on red waddle and comb.
Blood hung from my scalp and throat.

When I sang, words stuck in my teeth like seeds.
Rows of scrubbed faces swiveled into mirrors.
Jesus snickered through his halo.
Wise men lisped my name behind cardboard camels.

I studied the songbook’s notes,
black flags caught in fence-wire.
Something smoldered behind the rooster mask
until the whole room filled with smoke.

Tonight, in the school closed by referendum,
faces assemble at their desks.
I slip on the wrinkled mask
and crow my song to a child in straw.

Wind whispers one syllable through glass.
The moon pencils the courtyard’s crabapple
across my desk. I trace its bloodless shadow
with a finger, thorn by crooked thorn.


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