But Tonight

Image by Ahmed Adly — Unsplash

To Poe’s masquerade Death
came masked & silent
but tonight he comes
bare-faced & blustering,
boasting of freedoms
& falsehoods in a voice
full of spit & spite.

At Poe’s masquerade Death
moved through the rainbow
of rooms until he reached black
bathed in scarlet, but tonight
he cares for only three colors,
red & blue, & white, too,
the complexion of dominion.

At Poe’s masquerade Death
ate nothing & drank nothing;
he ignored the feasts & fountains
abounding for each honored guest,
but tonight he does eat, swallowing
a paste he brought himself, swearing
that nothing has ever tasted better.

At Poe’s masquerade & tonight
as well, the black clock chimes twelve.
Prince Prospero couldn’t build walls
thick enough to keep out the Worm Slayer
& neither can we. But maggots
are not worms—they are conquerors—
& they love us, but Death most of all.

About the Poem

I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s thought about Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death” off and on for the last eighteen months. Here, rather than Death being Covid 19, as you would expect, I imagine it being an anti-vaxxer who believes in the protective powers of Ivermectin. Because he believes this, and because Prince Prospero cannot protect himself from him, Prospero will die, too, despite the walls.

About the Author

Kevin Grauke is the author of Shadows of Men (Queen’s Ferry Press), winner of the Steven Turner Award from the Texas Institute of Letters. His fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared (or are forthcoming) in journals such as The Threepenny Review, Bayou, The Southern Review, Quarterly West, and Columbia Journal. He’s a Contributing Editor at Story, and he teaches at La Salle University in Philadelphia. Twitter: @kevingrauke

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