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Underneath the mask


My cellmate was up for eight to twelve years for aggravated forgery,

and he would have gotten away with it too, he said,

if it hadn’t been for those darn kids.


He told me the whole story.

How could he not have realized from the start that his plan was shot straight to hell

from the first time they failed to be frightened,

since that was the whole point of the setup?

The skinny one and the dog were easy enough,

but there was just no scaring the other three. 

The more he waved his arms and snarled,

the more they kept searching for the lever that opened the hidden room

and gathered the parts for their infernal trap.

Why stick to Plan A when it would never work?

instead of packing up the truck and taking off through the cave, if he’d been the non-violent sort,

or fetching out the Glock if otherwise?


Ah, he said, leaning forward in his bunk,

You don’t know what it was like.

I knew I should leave but I kept putting it off.

As soon as I felt the costume cover me

I was grabbed by a feeling I can’t describe.

Smash through doors, I could, and me a forger not a weightlifter;

stand behind every curtain, loom behind them when they sat down, jump from every shadow.

Even when I was doing something ridiculous,

Chasing them down banisters, on bicycles, on skis,

I could have laughed if I hadn’t needed to keep snarling.

I felt like a picture in a frame that had been empty for hundreds of years.


But what would you have done if you caught them, I asked?

The claws were just rubber, after all.


I didn’t want to catch them, he said.

I wanted to keep chasing forever.

Never before or since

have I felt I was doing something more necessary for this world.

Never before so strong, never so happy.


He put his head back on his pillow and lit a cigarette.


Never once so alive.

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