though we both are masked,
i see you through
your weary eyes –
the rasps in your sorrowed voice
suggest a story greater than words,
and the worn skin around your
reddened eyes
portends the news i need to share

but before i tell you of your
new rare cancer
(which had the whole department
scratching its head for a week)
let me stand silent with you a while,

and, though our hands cannot touch,
and we cannot exchange smiles,
and i still get you mixed up with room 23b
because everyone’s in the same mask and gown,
let me hear about your wife,
who calls every day

your son, whose restaurant makes the world’s best clam bake,
where you offered to get me a reservation,

your dog, more arthritic than
anyone else in the aging family,
who still runs to the door every morning
to greet you.

these masks may
cover our faces, but they
do not hide our humanity,
and our words, not our appearances,
tell our story,

so let me stand here and hear about you
before the sky splinters, breaks, and falls,
and i must end your world with my news.