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