Spare Me the Mask

If a piece of fabric could
provide my grief’s plea,
I’d layer cloth over my skin
before I saw my own face.

If a sum of bills could
guarantee our survival,
I’d offer my own voice
to sell as your artifact.

How much would you take
for my life?

Author’s Note

The speaker of this poem struggles with feelings of hopelessness as a result of gross trauma and oppression. Twice, the speaker offers to lose their identity for a life. By the close, the reader must think in the same mode of the speaker…What would you trade for your liberation? The speaker presents these answers simply, yet they’re wholly sacrificial. Trade the identity for life.

I wish I could explain each choice here, but mainly I hope any reader will sit with the blunt despair of the speaker and reflect. With high drama, the speaker yearns to be heard­.

Charlyn is a class of 2020 WashU alum. She worked with the Gephardt Institute during her last two years of undergrad and remains passionate about dismantling the relentless and oppressive forces that target the Black community every day.

Reflection Questions

  • In what ways do the speaker’s words resonate with you in this poem?
  • What does your freedom mean to you?
  • How does the speaker’s idea of liberation contrast with your own?

Engage with these questions on social media using #ThisCivicMoment.

Additional Readings

Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde

  • “Poetry Is Not a Luxury”
  • “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action”
  • “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism”
  • “Eye to Eye: Black Women, Hatred, and Anger”

Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper

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