Over Easy: Poetry and Masks 101

  • Dan Mackie (Courtesy photograph)

For the Valley News
Published: 8/7/2020 9:46:17 PM
Modified: 8/7/2020 9:46:06 PM

Here we are in August 2020, and it seems in many ways that Americans have become unmoored. At least it seems that way to me, someone who has put risky behaviors behind him.

No more Spring Break crowds for me. No beer pong with Dartmouth students. No motorcycle rallies here, there or anywhere.

At 67, I think it is time to stay home and tend to my lawn, a mangy mix of greenish things that self-identify as grass. It is a Great Plains for grubs, a Serengeti for squirrels.

Last week we suffered a home invasion by a bat. The little creature zig-zagged madly in the air and made someone scream (for the record, not me — I was the one with a towel over my head opening windows). But no one got rabies, or tripped over something in the dark with a towel over his head, so all was good.

When we leave our little oasis in West Lebanon and enter public spaces, we wear cloth masks. To me it isn’t a political statement. It seems sensible. Scientists — people who studied actual science in school while the rest of us used our powers of observation to hypothesize where the next teen party was going to be — believe they reduce transmission of the coronavirus. At the moment they would appear to serve the public good, not tyranny. The masks are a tad uncomfortable on muggy days, but in the annals of mass human suffering a sweaty upper lip doesn’t rank in the Top 10.

Nevertheless, I take claims of tyranny seriously. When I first heard of objections to masks in this time of COVID-19, I wondered if our Founding Fathers, who figure so prominently in the hearts and minds of people who have become constitutional law experts at home in their spare time, would have even given a second thought about ordering emergency health measures if necessary.

In a brief interlude of curiosity, I found that George Washington himself, “the father of our country,’’ ordered smallpox vaccinations for his troops in 1777. If that was good enough for General Washington, one of the stars of Broadway’s Hamilton, it’s good enough for me.

When out and about in the Upper Valley I am seeing more compliance with mask recommendations, but it depends on where you go. I see men who look angry and defiant striding into supermarkets without one, but I have been reluctant to confront them. You never know if someone has inner demons, or a nagging, embarrassing itch that makes them look so disagreeable.

I am disappointed that America, the land that produced the electric light bulb, suspension bridges and the Slinky, hasn’t been able to build a better mask. What an opportunity for Google, which produced the goofy Google glasses, to create a wireless mask that could look up things for you 24/7. Or Facebook, which would revel in collecting personal data culled from your every spoken word. Apple would design something beautiful, but the $999 price tag of the Apple Mask might be elitist, even if it did link seamlessly with your Apple Belt and Apple Socks.

Recently, inspired by Upper Valley bard Bruce Lather’s limericks on local Listservs, I turned to rhyme to explore my feelings on the subject of masks. I found the exercise beneficial. Since they are not exactly high art, there’s less pressure. They may be a way of priming the pump of creativity. Or stupidity — it depends on the limerick.

I would welcome anti-maskers to respond, but only in the form of a limerick, a method of expression that is underappreciated and underused. Imagine if our president produced limericks rather than his wild daily tweets. Believe me, the effort of crafting a workable limerick would cut his output, perhaps benefiting all sides. You could put in several hours working covfefe into a good one.

I think we (divided Americans) would reduce the harsh rhetoric if we employed lighthearted verse. Curiously, it is hard to take yourself seriously when you take the time to work out a rhyme.

In that spirit, I recently posted one to the Upper Valley Listserv:

Really you have just one task,

When out and about wear a mask.

Launching your spittle

Puts me in the middle.

This can’t be too much to ask.

Dan Mackie lives in West Lebanon. He can be reached at dan.mackie@yahoo.com.

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