J V Birch – Masks


I never had the chance to give you the masks
we bought you from The Gambia. Leaving gifts

to last minute, we wearied a market with the midday
sun, intent on finding you something among

the rainbow of dresses, the hand-painted bowls,
the ivory nobody wants anymore. And then

I saw them—heavy lidded, full lips, slender
noses, one male, the other less so—exquisitely

carved in dark wood. I knew you’d like them,
would examine them slowly, even feel the African

heat in your palm. We came back on a Thursday
and I called you the next day to tell you about our trip.

I asked how you were. You said you hadn’t been feeling
yourself, that it was probably nothing. On Sunday you rang

from a hospital, in with suspected gall stones, a bladder
that may have to come out. And then it all happened quickly.

Tests revealed shadows—the secondary found first,
the primary after—a diagnosis was given but no time.

You died. In seven days. At home. In your sleep.
I never had the chance to give you the masks

we bought you from The Gambia. Think this when I see
them on the wall in our study. A world away, like you.


J V Birch lives in Adelaide. Her poems have appeared in anthologies, journals and magazines across Australia, the UK, Canada and the US. She has two collections—Smashed glass at midnight and What the water & moon gave me—published by Ginninderra Press. She blogs at www.jvbirch.com

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