A mask will hide a person. And the breath
and pulse that life is disappear – in much
the way snow blanks a landscape or the stars
swim out of eyesight when the sun comes up.
Who I might be without the mask is moot –
but who I am in it, that has some weight.
This is an Ife copper mask. The face
would not surprise, met on the street, though art
has left its trace on eye and lip and cheek:
all smooth lines. A man wearing this could not
cry out or speak, but he could see his feet.
This may have served for royal burials –
a king transformed, but still a king. We all
step masked into existence and that mask
is not ours to remove. The kings of Ife
were buried royally, and every pulse
and atom of their person was concealed
by their high station. As the Emperor
Vespasian became a god, so they
ceased to be mortal – and their copper face
refined what changes into what does not.
John Claiborne Isbell
Since 2016, various MSS of John Claiborne Isbell’s have placed as finalist or semifinalist for The Washington Prize (three times), The Brittingham & Felix Pollak Prizes (twice), the Elixir Press 19th Annual Poetry Award, The Gival Press Poetry Award, the 2020 Able Muse Book Award (twice) and the 2020 Richard Snyder Publication Prize. He published his first book of poetry, Allegro, in 2018, and has published in Poetry Durham, threecandles.org, the Jewish Post & Opinion, and The Ekphrastic Review. As a young man in the 1990s, he published books with Oxford and with Cambridge University Press and appeared in Who’s Who in the World.
The Ekphrastic Review
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