by Barbara Bald

Reams of silken material, cascading to the floor,
encased her young body in black-velvet elegance,
enveloped her in a coat lined with white rabbit fur,
soft and alluring.

I remember how its hood encircled her masked face,
long, curled eyelashes glued to eyeholes,
immovable, but inviting.

Her black gloves, cedar-scented from the attic chest,
flicked a rhinestone-studded cigarette holder,
flashed a fake emerald ring.
With her pinky poised in the air,
her jewels captured porch-light glare
as we trick-or-treated our way through the neighborhood.

I remember her stories about how she’d worn the coat
to nightclub gigs, where,
refusing spiked Shirley Temples,
she had danced in sequined heels,
steeled herself against grabbing hands,
smiled through a different kind of disguise.

This night she was a make-believe lady of the evening.
This night she was the mother who held my tiny hand
and carried a bulging bag of candy.

Looking back, I can forgive her
for unbounded love she could not offer.
Years later, I have come to understand
why she lived behind a mask
she could not remove.

Previously published in the author’s collection Drive-Through Window.

PAINTING: “Madame X” by John Singer Sargent (1884).


NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: There were many masks worn throughout my childhood — those worn on Halloween, those of the Lone Ranger and Zorro, Ben Casey and Doctor Kildare, those we hid behind as teenagers, even those worn by adults trying to hide something too scary to face. I believe most masks are worn to protect somebody. Unfortunately, sometimes the disguise can rob both parties of a chance for intimacy. My poem strives to convey that possibility.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Barbara Bald is a retired teacher, educational consultant, and freelance writer. Her poems have been published in a variety of anthologies and her work has been recognized in both national and local contests. She has two full-length books, Drive-Through Window and Other Voices/Other Lives. Her chapbook is entitled Running on Empty. She has written articles for Heart of New Hampshire, New Hampshire Magazine, and other local publications. She lives in Alton, NH, with her cat Catcher and some very personable goldfish.