Mask

Sarah Salway

My mother-in-law says the masked
waiters at our fancy lunch
are just how she imagines guards
at the Gates of Hell to look like.

We’ve both learnt – him harder, earlier –
that you can’t anticipate
what she might say next. It’s a game
with her and we’ll always lose

but the next day they’ll go for a drive
while I make lunch in the two roomed flat
we’ve just discovered she can’t manage.
Have a good look at it all,

she’ll tell me as they set off.
Take what you want, take everything.
Instead I’ll keep my eyes shut
to walk half-blindly round, feeling

my way as she must do. We played
this same as children, called it Trust.
There was another I loved more,
Ragdolls. The sudden collapse

on top of each other, not moving
as we were dragged dead across rooms.
In her kitchen, my hand will feel
for the tomato and then the knife.

All these things should be simple
but do I, unseeing, dare cut into flesh?
Better to sink my teeth in whole,
take goodness when and where I can.

An hour later they’ll come back to roses
on the table, a sliced tomato salad,
her magnifying glass laid by her plate
and me smiling, smiling, smiling.

Sarah's writing has appeared in a number of publications, including the Virago Book of Shopping, the Poetry of Sex (Penguin Books), Poetry London, the Financial Times, Psychologies magazine, and has been commissioned by BBC Radio 4. She's a Hawthornden Fellow, former Canterbury Laureate, and has twice been awarded international residential Fellowships from Virginia Center for Culture and Arts in the US. In addition to Twitter and Instagram, you can also find Sarah on Substack and at Writer in the Garden.