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“It’s a strange image you’re describing, and strange prisoners.”
          —Plato's Republic, Book VII

Masks on masks on masks, trying to breathe through them all,
          and when the princess wore ten wedding gowns
and made the dragon take ten layers off it was all made clear,
          but what to do in a world without princesses or dragons? 

God has given you one face and the world has given another
          and between the two you stretch and shape. 
Noh thyself, says the strange prisoner, because he’s afraid to leave,
          afraid of stepping in a different river each time. 

What did your face look like before your mother and father
          met? Koanonical queries don’t always hack
the root, sometimes they just stir up the water and there’s not 
          always a lotus flower, sometimes just mud

for a mask. So learn Avestan, silk-square your pocket, and toast
          to noh gods. Only a dais ex machina here raises the dead,
to be eaten by birds, so pray for a lark before it’s all kaput. Before you
          sit and scrape ash against bone — carry wood and chop water. 

Z.T. SOKOLOSKI is a graduate student in English at UTSA.

Cover Art: Mask Still Life III, Emil Nolde, 1911, Oil on canvas (via