by Joshua McKinney
​ ©2020  Margaret Wiss

Joshua McKinney's most recent collection of poetry, Small Sillion (Parlor Press 2019), made the short list for the 2019 Golden Poppy Award and is a current nominee for the Northern California Book Award. He is the recipient of the University of Georgia Press Poetry Series Open Competition, the Dorothy Brunsman Poetry Prize, the Dickinson Poetry Prize, and a Gertrude Stein Award for Innovative American Poetry. His work has appeared in such journals as American Letters & CommentaryBoulevardColorado ReviewDenver QuarterlyKenyon ReviewNew American Writing, and many others. He teaches poetry writing and literature at California State University, Sacramento. A longtime student of Japanese swords arts, he is a member of Senkakukan Dojo of Sacramento.

The Woman without a Mask

in front of me in the cold room
in Costco has stopped
by the exit, her cart blocking my path.
I stand waiting for acknowledgement,
careful to keep six feet between us.
I would go back the way I’ve come, 
but the aisle is narrow, already
full of carts and shoppers eyeing 
the spring mix, the asparagus, the 
green beans and Brussels sprouts. 
When she looks up, I’m clutching
my plastic pint of strawberries, 
waiting for her eyes to meet mine.
And when they do, I see that I have 
failed to conceal my judgement. 
It’s true. In the fifteen seconds before 
she saw me, I saw her mask-less face 
and wrote her history—from her education 
to the car she drives to how she voted 
in the last election. I’ve even named her 
Karen. She, too, it seems, has passed judgment,
as though my facial covering were
a blatant bumper sticker decrying
her kind. She straightens, back against
the wall, and says, “I’m not moving.” 
I squeeze through the gap with feigned
indifference, my silence the biggest
fuck you I can muster, step out of that
confined space to my waiting cart,
and move on to the cat food and coffee, 
feeling odd, somewhere between
addled and sad. What a time we share,
when in trying to slow the spread
of a disease, we reveal (or think
we do) so much about ourselves,
where only a few months before the eyes 
could pass over a face in passing and not see
a threat, when the space between us
was not so precisely measured, when 
a stranger was a stranger, and we 
could imagine we shared something
other than air. A year from now, 
if I survive, I will be able to remove my
mask and conceal myself again, 
incognito, immune to contagious gazes. 
I pay for my goods and leave, my eyes 
fixed on my car as I cross the parking lot. 
Safe inside, my white face fades
behind the windshield glass. 
I take off my mask and breathe. 

© 2020 West Trade Review
© 2020 West Trade Review
Margaret Wiss is an interdisciplinary artist and scholar. Her work seeks to be shaped by each environment and the individuals who contribute to its development. She values the vitality of collaboration. She has an MFA in Dance from New York University's Tisch School for the Arts.

This photograph is from the series 'up in the air'. It is a document of a daily movement exploration and meditation in the Time of Corona. Capturing the essential moment, the series highlights the tender absence of others but also the expansion and abundance of the natural world. Learn more about her work at https://www.margaretwiss.com/ & IG: wiss.co

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