Death Mask

Death Mask

(L.K.B. 1917-2008)

I would have cast a death mask from her head
Cooling in a bed ringed by surviving kin
If plaster of Paris drying on shrunken
Skin, dull black buttons that had been eyes
And bared grey gums could model havoc
Ninety years had wrought upon a beauty.
But how we ruin others leaves no mark
To be traced. Fixing her husband's family
Dinner bequesthed no scars to Procne's face.

Head of William BlakeI took a twelve inch square of putty-coloured
Construction paper, drew a pear, inverted,
Eight inches long, four wide for cheeks to flare
Made marks for spud nose, a Bacon mouth,
Wisps of white hair, spite lines, spots,
Scissored the outline, scraped fascia from frame
Like spittle from sere lips, but I'm no artist
With stroke and scumble to express the natural
History of families in a screaming rictus.

I turned the womb shape over and wrote how
My heels rucked the kitchen rug as she dragged
Me out at five to fight a bully, and watched;
How smart she looked, fresh from the hairdresser,
Made up and gloved to shop, after she dropped
Her eighth-grade butcher boy at his weekend work;
How if lover lift a hand to caress my cheek
I flinch. Dear Spartan mother, why did you send me
To the Apothetae, alone among your children?

I sat staring in my study at the ju-ju I'd made
Then from a top shelf pulled a thick book down
From psychologies I now won't read again,
Opened it in the middle, lay the damned thing
Between the pages as you would to press a flower,
Or billets doux from a bad affair you can't quite
Forget, and committed her to my high loculus.


© All poems remain the copyright of Dan Burt and are reproduced with his permission