Gas Mask
by Chris Bays

It hung like a piece of skin
on their papa’s workshop wall –
an heirloom from the Great War,
its pig snout furled into a grimace,
its eye sockets like those
of a giant fly or some beast hunched
in a corner, waiting to pounce.
My cousins and I found it there
beside the awls, hidden beneath
a tattered towel. I remember the time
was Kerwe. We took turns wearing it,
roaring through the basement dark,
flashlights held beneath our chins.
We didn’t know its blistered past,
its heaving breaths; we were too busy
transformed into beasts
dancing in and out of shadows
to notice my uncle on the stairs.
I remember the sudden explosion,
clenched fists from above; I remember
his voice, broken yet deep, rumbling
of respect, respect for the dead.

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