by Mark Johnson*

I feel like I’m stuck inside
and everybody else is stuck inside
and sometimes I just don’t feel
like its ever going to end.
Everybody’s wearing masks now.
I look at people and they’re talking to me
but you can’t even tell for sure
what’s on their face
because half of their face is covered up.
And I feel like everyone has something covered up
and you can’t tell what they’re really about.
Even people I see all the time,
I want to ask them
do they want to take their mask off?
do they like being behind the mask?
It’s such a weird situation.

It reminds me of when I was a kid
and we moved from Kansas City out to Oregon
and I realized nobody knew who I was
and they were all trying to figure out
who I was.
I could see all these cliques
and people were coming up to check me out
to see if I fit in their group.
I would want to fit in someplace
and I would sort of put on, “oh yeah I’m like you”
but it wasn’t who I was.

Then there was one group
who I liked being around
because they just talked about philosophy and politics.
Things that I liked talking about
and I realized that I had never really known anyone like this.
I didn’t have to have a mask on
and suddenly, it was being able to just be free
to be who I really was.

I don’t’ know what to do with the mask
I’ve got on right now
I want to take it off
but I don’t feel safe.

*Mark dictated this poem during a training exercise, thinking about how we're all feeling during COVID, but also, how the youth Pongo writes with feel all the time.