How to make your own face mask

Inside the sealed hive of her retirement home
my grandmother is sewing face masks.

From whatever cell she has ever occupied
has always streamed an issue of crafted panaceas.

My grandmother is part of the Silent Generation
and she is still generating silently.

She has sewn blankets for the homeless,
gowns for stillborn infants to be buried in.

My grandmother has always stitched the world together,
improvised some bandage for others’ wounded lives,
offered a cup of cold water to the least of these.

And now that she is the least of these, she still sews.
But these are not the first masks she has fashioned.

My grandmother sewed masks for both her marriages
in vintage midcentury fabrics. She sewed the masks
of teacher and mother to cover the exhaustion
of infinite needs all clamoring for her.
She sewed churchlady masks that matched
the color of the tablecloth at the potluck,
coordinated with the liturgical vestments,
shielded her from gossip and hypocrisy.

My grandmother has known all her life what the mask means,
what it says silently as it covers her mouth.

The mask says,
I am not letting anything in or out.
The mask says,
you can see my eyes but nothing else tells you who I am.
The mask says,
there may be a hidden weakness in all of us.
The mask says,
we may spread mayhem without meaning to.
The mask says,
I know the potential for how deeply we could hurt each other.
The mask says,
the closer we are, the more harm we could do.
The mask says,
I know closeness lends itself to death.

In this way, she could tell you, the mask is a form of love.
My grandmother knows how contagious love is.

Sara Jeanine Smith


Sara Jeanine Smith is an assistant professor of English at Pensacola State College and the mother of two daughters. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Pigeonholes, Roanoke Review, The Stirling Spoon, Psaltery & Lyre, Hurricane Review, and Dying Dahlia Review. Her chapbook entitled Queen and Stranger was published by USPOCO Books in 2019.

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