We Wear the Mask

By Paul Laurence Dunbar
We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise,

In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
       We wear the mask.
We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
       We wear the mask!

Dispatch From Ontario, Oregon

On a Monday morning, I flew from Portland, Oregon to Boise, Idaho. From

Boise, I drove an hour west back to Oregon. The drive was longer than the flight. When I got out of my rental car in Ontario, it was 102 degrees. My hosts and colleagues told me it was a dry heat, so I’d be okay. Dry heat at least allows one the dignity of flirting with heat stroke without rivers of sweat flowing out of every pore.

Delicious. Not cute.

After work the first night, I was directed to a cantina at the end of a lonely road near a semi-truck parking lot. I ordered my meal and then headed back to my hotel along the same lonely road, the aroma of refried beans escaping the takeout container and filling the car. In my overly air-conditioned hotel room, I ate chile colorado with rice and beans while watching an episode of Antiques Roadshow set in Bismarck, North Dakota. The episode first aired in the 90s and the original appraisals were listed side by side by each object’s insurance value in 2019. It was a lesson in changing tastes; the Great Recession killed the market for white rattan.

Sign at Amal’s Ethnic Fusion food truck

As a person who has always lived in urban spaces, rural places have always been a mystery to me. I don’t understand what it means to live in a place where everyone seems to be tangibly connected to each other.

Connections create community. In Ontario, refugees from Iraq and Somalia work together at the city’s only food truck making the best falafel east of the Cascades. They are building community and new lives for themselves and their families just like the people of Mexican, Japanese, Basque, and European ancestry, who came before them to the far reaches of the Beaver State with the same dream. And the place that is now their home that sustained generations of immigrants was and forever will be the land of the Agaidika and Paiute peoples.

Toni Morrison in Her Own Words

The function of freedom is to free someone else.

1. Whatever the work is, do it well- not for the boss but for yourself.

2. You make the job; it doesn’t make you.

3. Your real life is with us, your family.

4. You are not the work you do; you are the person you are.

So, from my point of view, I see your life as already artful, waiting, just waiting and ready for you to make art.

All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was. Writers are like that: remembering where we were, that valley we ran through, what the banks were like, the light that was there and the route back to our original place.

I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence.