V  P  R

Contemporary Poetry and Poetics





In basic training, we were ordered to take 
off masks in a tent billowing with tear gas.

I remember stumbling out, blinded, puking
in ferns yellow from this practice, certain

I was dying.  The lesson was masks work.
To build truth with pain.  On the news,

I see men don chemical suits and dive
into bunkers, sweat coating their eye

pieces, breathless from the sprint, heat
and bomb bursts.  We have always feared

the alchemist who poisons, transforms
water and air with a demon we cannot

parry.  Those who dip arrows also shake
from the prick, shifting winds, enemies

torched in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
When it comes time to take off masks,

the lowest ranking soldier must first test
the air.  Who will live, who will suffer?

Who is the least among us?

© by Martin Ott


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