On Respiration

Suddenly the internet is teeming
with sewing patterns, and everyone

is hunting through their closets 
for an old cotton or poplin shirt

that might be cut and sewn into face
masks. The most common model is one

that starts with a rectangle you fold
in half then pleat and pleat again 

in small sections; two garter straps 
or pony tail holders are added 

for fastening around each ear. Another 
has a seam running down the middle. 

The fabric's cut so it forms a slight 
peak in front, reminiscent of plague 

doctors' bird-beak masks in the 1300s. 
Like death's acolytes they glided   

through streets infested with bubonic 
plague—aroma of ambergris or mint, 

lavender and herbs stuffed into 
the protrusion, for tempering 

the stench of rotting bodies piled 
in churchyards. Nose, mouth, and chin

are covered; and the eyes? The eyes,
not hard to read above the mask-edge   

as now, when we venture out to get
medicine or food: the eyes, blurring 

with the hurt, the hope, the effort 
to hold the breath then just breathe.  

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