Off the Shelf, Poetry Thursdays
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Mask on.
Your own protective prison
the air is stale but clean, you hope.
You don’t dwell on things you can’t change.

Check the morning news and choke
droplets filtered but rhetoric unencumbered.

Another day begins
wading into the fire wearing nothing but your robe
armed only with words of encouragement
chalked on the sidewalk in painstaking calligraphy.
You take up the sword
but the blade is dull.

On the frontlines
you stand at attention
hoping to pass for the hero they call you
facing off against today’s enemy:
the row of rooms marked “COVID+”

Each time you enter you wonder,
to save a life
must you wager yours?

At 8 p.m. sharp,
the claps and cheers of thousands
ring out across the city
but you don’t hear them.
They fade beneath your patient’s rattling lungs
drawing each breath as if questioning its worth.
Suddenly you hear only the hiss of your own breath
deafening, evanescent.

Finally home, peeling off layers
first sweat and grit
then scrubs
then skin.
You put on your new skin, the one that watches The Office
and bakes banana bread
and calls your family with a smile on your face.

And only when you have gone to bed
eyes closed, mind ablaze

Mask off.

Image credit: surgical mask (CC BY-NC 2.0) by shooting brooklyn

Poetry Thursdays is an initiative that highlights poems by medical students and physicians. If you are interested in contributing or would like to learn more, please contact our editors.

Maria Hanna (4 Posts)

Contributing Writer

Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Maria is a fourth year medical student at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, IL, class of 2022. In 2018, she graduated from Illinois Wesleyan University with a Bachelor of Arts in biology and Spanish. She enjoys traveling, reading, exploring the city, and trying new foods in her free time. After graduating medical school, Maria would like to pursue a career in internal medicine, with an emphasis on health equity and medical education.