By Gian Lorenzo Bernini (Italian, 1598–1680) and students (Jastrow (2006)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Bernini, 1630

“Let down the mask,” you say, smiling.
“I am strong and not afraid; I love you.”
(My hair stirs in a restless coil.)

“Let down the mask. I want to see you,
I know you. To me you are beautiful.”
(My hair rises slightly at the nape.)

“Let down the mask. We are friends
I will respect you whatever you look like.”
(My hair is beginning to rustle.)

“Let down the mask. You know I can cope with
whatever it is you keep hidden behind it.”
(My hair is straining to be free.)

My hand rises to the mask
you are waiting, smiling just as if you like me.
(My hair is whispering urgent warnings.)

I let down the mask
and look at you straight, myself as I am.
(My hair is a twisting mass of hissing snarls.)

In your eyes there is no fellowship
just cold hard stone like all the others.
(My hair snakes protectively over my terrible face.)

April 2001, Swansea