Two men walk through the boardroom.
Each one carries a spear; each wears a mask.
Each man is afraid of his own death,
but is no less willing to strike, to rend, kill.
Each mask is a grotesque mirror of rage,
meant to inspire mortal fear;
each man hopes the other will be made
too afraid to fight when he finally
confronts him and his hideous mask.
Each man had a father who told him
his mask represents his true nature within.
Each man had a mother who told him
it represents what he wants other men
to believe about his true nature within.
As young men, each came to accept
his father’s version of what his mask means,
so had faith in his mask for many years.
But as he gets older and closer to death,
each wonders if his mother’s explanation
might not be the true one, after all.
Either his mask has reflected his real self
all along, or he has turned into his mask.
It becomes increasingly important
to know whether his mother’s story
or his father’s is the one he can believe.
Neither man betrays doubt as he glares
through the haze his cigarette makes;
doubt gives other men a license to strike.
Yet it is only doubt, not certainty,
that allows him to hold the two versions
together in his mind, in some balance.
Two men walk into the boardroom;
they carry spears, wear fearsome masks.
Each man is afraid, but for all his confusion,
is no less willing to strike, to rend, kill;
and he thinks his father, finally, is right.
Yet when his face distorts beneath its mask,
and, cursing the other, he hurls his spear,
each man remembers the words of his mother.
From Still Some Cake by Jim Cummins (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2012)