|His face is a hideous bouquet|
of red tulips this morning
before he moves to the other coast.
I unwrap his gift, a mask
fashioned from coarse brown paper,
eye holes shaped like tears,
with an elastic strap to bind
mask to skin like a bandage.
It's the mask of Mil Mascaras,
a wrestler who hid the secret
of his face until the last fight.
He leans toward me with the story:
Mascaras sits alone in his dressing room,
chair missing a rung, white porcelain sink
dripping blue stain, heat pipes a hundred degrees,
the crowd in the arena a distant sound
like flowing water. He stares at the mirror,
his mask face-up on the table.
He's thinking how, night after night,
one beer-soaked small-town gym
after another, he wrestles for the crowd,
their tension focused on the mystery
of his face. And tonight, too tired to keep hiding,
he gives the word for his fall:
an eye gouge, dropkick,
a figure-four-leg-lock into a body slam
and he lies pinned to the mat, mask stripped.
His opponent waves it like a severed head,
Mascaras rising at center ring,
rotating his face toward the silenced crowd
like a lighthouse beacon,
shining his burned, scarred skin.
By now we are both crying,
and I remember all the years
I've searched his face for new lesions
the way I study soil for signs of spring.
Now his infection is so obvious
the neighborhood kids have stopped
riding their bicycles past his house,
where else, he jokes, but at the end of the road.
I hand him prescriptions, referral names and numbers,
and he hands me the mask:
Don't worry about me, Richard,
wrestling is fixed,
the outcome of every fight
is known in advance.
Read more of Dr. Berlin's work.