“Person” Comes From “Mask”



Complete focus can resemble utter distraction, just like

there’s a point where my lover begins to look like a stranger


and large things begin to look small. When the squirrel

twitching in the dirt becomes, upon closer examination,


fleshless, animated by feasting yellowjackets, I’m reminded

of the summer evening I stood on a porch in Vermont


as a veil of insects caught the last light and dove over a golden field

before me, bearing it on their backs. Behind me, friends


played music from a small, portable speaker.

A relative had recently died. I was imagining her funeral.


I was wondering, as the gentle music swelled around me,

if she’d ever been to Vermont, if she’d ever left


the small corner of the United States where she was now

ashes in a vase, when I crossed my arms around my belly


and held my own waist. I swayed like this, facing the field

and overheard: Gabrielle really knows how to love herself.


Today I am on an island made by glaciers advancing south.

I step over the squirrel whose body is being 


replaced, advance, stepping over driftwood trunks 

bleached like mastodon bones and piled 


at the tide’s furthest reach. Over and over, unevolving:

the lathering of sea, where same meets sameness


roughly, spittle sparked in long and snaking seams

where those on the shore can see it. This is vanity


interrupted by the depths. My phone’s face lights,

buzzing with text, but I don’t recognize the number. 


Is one ever alone? UNKNOWN wants photos, no face,

they will pay, they are hoping I am cute without clothes,


without my face. I consider sending a full-body shot 

of the squirrel with an invoice, captioned: 


How much more nude can you get

There are squirrel fossils here from the Eocene,


and the women in my family are dying. I face 

the clean, midday air. Their funerals are so, so small. 





poet Gabrielle Bates looks into the camera wearing a red floral topOriginally from Birmingham, Alabama, Gabrielle Bates currently lives in Seattle, where she works for Open Books: A Poem Emporium and co-hosts the podcast The Poet Salon. The recipient of support from the Bread Loaf Writers Conference and the Princeton Poetry Festival, her poems have appeared or will soon in The New Yorker, Poetry MagazinePloughshares, American Poetry Review, and Buzz Words: Poems About Insects (Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets Series), among other journals and anthologies. You can connect with her at www.gabriellebat.es or on Twitter (@GabrielleBates).