It struck me the other day that even after a year out here, there are still work colleagues whose faces I have not seen without masks on. Arriving in the middle of the pandemic, masks were required in all public spaces – and rigorously enforced – with more than a few people cited for either having theirs pulled down or not wearing one as they approached the security gates and barriers that dot the landscape. Only when I then see a face without a mask does it register that I have made up the hidden contours, seeing the mask as an integral part of these faces. This brings with it a mild sense of discomfort, stemming from – I think – the fact that even though I have built relationships and friendships with these people, their uncovered faces scream unknown rather than familiar.
Faces apart, I have found myself returning again and again to Carlos Andres Gomez’ poem, Father. I first heard it read by Pádraig Ó Tuama on the excellent Poetry Unbound podcast, its second stanza perfectly encapsulating how I felt on many a visit to the ICU in the aftermath of L’s arrival. Those moments, in which I grasped at everything that I hoped could provide certainty, come back to me in lines such as:
I confessed every wrong
of my life to an empty, over-lit room of steel
and sterile instruments
I never wanted
so badly to have been wrong
about anything in my life
This, for me, is part of the allure of poetry. Sometimes, amidst the many lines we read, we can feel seen and known in the words of others.