Mindfulness for the Lone Commuter
by Oz Hardwick

It’s a mask day, so I tie on the old plague doctor before going for the bus. It was cool when I bought it in Venice, and it still is, really, but these days they’re everywhere, mass-produced in the Far East and less than a tenner on eBay. The bus is mostly owls and butterflies, heading for school or the office, thumbing their phones and nodding to songs only they can hear, tapping into the day’s mesh and flutter. Kids today don’t know what a plague is: they’ve never woken up sweating and felt for lumps, never checked for spots on white cotton, never burned friends and family on the waste ground by the gas works; but when everything swims into focus, can any of us truly say that we know we were born? If nothing else, I have a wallet full of loyalty cards and pockets full of keys, a beak stuffed with herbs to keep me breathing. Tomorrow is a hat day, then, after that, everything’s up for grabs.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I bought a plague doctor mask while visiting Venice in the early 2000s, and it’s the most extravagant of many that I wear from day to day. I used to only wear it for special occasions, but now it’s come into its own and I wear it in my sleep most nights. It’s become a cliché to say that we all wear masks, but it’s become a cliché because it’s true.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Oz Hardwick is a European poet, writer, photographer, occasional musician, and academic, whose work has been published and performed internationally in and on diverse media. His chapbook Learning to Have Lost (Canberra: IPSI/Recent Work, 2018) was the winner in the poetry category of the 2019 Rubery International Book Awards, and his most recent collection The Lithium Codex (Clevedon: Hedgehog Poetry Press, 2019) won the Hedgehog Poetry Press Full Fat Collection prize. He has also edited and co-edited several anthologies, including (with Anne Caldwell) The Valley Press Anthology of Prose Poetry (Scarborough: Valley Press, 2019). Oz is Professor of English at Leeds Trinity University, where he leads the Creative Writing programmes. Visit him at ozhardwick.co.uk.