Photo on 5-27-20 at 5.39 PM
some ways to say mask
by Stephanie JT Russell

What if this mascarilla draws up threads of light and time from
beneath the forest floor? What if this kimāma ushers your dead
to the navel of renewal? What if this pkkhlum, veil between breaths,
is grandmother’s conundrum of mourning? This kinyago, molded
to the face of the world, portal to beauties of variation? This saynata,
a path that is single, known only to its walker?

What if these parda were not stonewall, nor camouflage, nor shrouds,
nor prophylaxis against a worst imagining of what you can become?
What if these habiliments hide nothing, reveal all, lead back to
the knowing—that you are not alone in this, or any other, state of due transition? That when the kinapak is unloosed, what’s left is this web
of self and selves, taste of air and pine, a gratitude on the skin.
Your eyes in shadow, threads of light and time, unveil the way home.
* The ways “mask” is said in this poem:
mascarilla / Spanish; kimāma / Arabic; pkkhlum / Thai;
kinyago / Kiswahili; saynata / Quechua; parda / Urdu; kinapak / Inuit.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: My work is a meditation on the pathos and paradox of our existence on this planet. I explore realms of consciousness as fleeting works of art in and of themselves, in an ekphrasis of experience. My creative ethos is grounded in an urgency to awaken awareness of the moment, and through awareness, a glimpse of abiding empathy. There’s nothing more human, or more urgently needed than building a culture of empathy in a world gone quite mad. Poets have been doing that job for centuries, and we won’t be quitting anytime soon.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Stephanie JT Russell is a seasoned interdisciplinary artist, published author, editor, essayist, and cultural worker. The most recent of her nine creative nonfiction books is One Flash of Lightning: A Samurai Path for Living the Moment (Andrews McMeel). Russell’s poetry has been anthologized in books and journals such as Words Upon the Water, Oakland Out Loud, MR/Metropolitan Review, Friends Journal, Rabbit & Rose (curated by 2018 San Francisco Poet Laureate Kim Schuck), Xavier Review, Peacock Journal, The Winter Anthology, and Sequestrum. A nominee for 2019 Dutchess County Poet Laureate, Russell’s full-length poetry manuscript Promethea Interprets Talmud / While Dying in the Rest Home, was shortlisted for the prestigious Washington Prize in 2019. Russell’s visual art, poetry, and performance work have been presented at Hallwalls, CEPA, The Barrett Art Center, The Griffin Museum of Photography, Artspace, NAME, The Albright Knox Gallery, The Ampex American Music Festival, Cody’s Books, Max Fish, Bowery Poetry Club, and numerous other venues in the US, Canada, and overseas. She is currently at work on a chapbook titled Putting It Right, and is organizing Just Lit!, the first three-day poetry festival to occur in December 2020 in Poughkeepsie, New York, where she has lived since 2013.