HOLD YOUR BREATH by Rana Bitar
From the collection:
March 18, 2020
Corona and Cancer
How much time do I have? The man asks.
With words muffled behind my double mask,
I mumble something. He accepts the answer,
Sometimes, you ask just to hear the question
and not the response.
Is death disguised in the cancer cells inside him?
Or is it floating in the air around us?
I give him chemotherapy to chase away the first.
I wear a mask to trap out the second.
The answer hides behind the mask of uncertainty.
What I had mumbled was:
How much time does life on Earth have?
I am glad he didn't hear it.
He is glad too.
Talking to people behind masks is tricky.
They can only see your eyes
and the frown in them can't hide behind a smile.
Truth. The truth is more naked behind a mask.
I feel each breath I take. How precious life is behind a mask!
Unmasked, you're never aware of breathing.
I hear my breath behind a mask.
How loud life is behind a mask!
Masks don't cover your vision. Only your gasp.
Roll, roll, numbers roll. County's count. State's count. Nation's count. World's count.
In the beginning, I could add and subtract
yesterday's cases from today's. How many more?
Now I can't. With six digits, you lose track.
No. You won't lose your job,
I answer my single-mother secretary.
Did she smile? Can I see her mouth behind her mask?
Did she see the truth in my eyes?
Thank God for masks.
No one questions the truth in the eyes
if it doesn't come out of the mouth.
How many masks do I have?
I have to make some from scratch this weekend.
Publication Date: 3/21/2023
About the Author
Her poetry has appeared in many journals including, The Deadly Writers Patrol, DoveTales, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, Magnolia Review, El Portal, Pacific REVIEW, Black Coffee Review, The Phoenix, The Dewdrop, The International Human Rights Art Festival, The Charleston Anvil, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, The Sextant Review, The Nonconformist Magazine, and Seeing Things: Anthology of Poetry.
She lives in upstate NY, where she practices hematology and oncology.