Description: Fantasy image. Large Surreal Mask in front of a blue eye painted on a wall. I girl is leaning on the wall to the left of the mask.

2020 Unmasked

Dear readers,

A few months ago, I entered the ENT and Audiology News ‘2020 Unmasked’ writing competition and I’ve just found out that my piece won a commendation!

Here’s my entry, a poem, that reflects on my experience of the impact of face masks on communication, particularly for people with hearing loss. I hope you enjoy reading it. You can read the winning entry and the other runner up pieces here.

2020 Unmasked

Twenty twenty, the year of the virus, the year of the mask.
A barrier between my breath and yours.
Reduce the spray of droplets, prevent them from travelling far.
Wear over your nose and mouth, more protection the mask ensures.
Cover your face. Give some space.

No need to paint my lips, they cannot be seen.
Glasses steaming up, itchy, irritating skin, running nose,
Breathing in the fumes of my last meal.
Vision obstructed, wearing mask high, tripping-up-toes.
Sweaty in summer, warms my face in winter. 
Protect ourselves. Protect others.

My life is one without full sound, even before the mask.
I fathom meaning from snippets of words, using lips to guide the way.
But these masks, they. Stopped, Me. In. My. Tracks.
I can’t see your lips, their movement and shapes, to give a clue to what you say.
Concealed expressions on covered faces. More concentration needed. I’m tired, drained.

Broken sounds reach me scrambled, trapped words in the mask’s fibres 
Like jumbled letters of a word search. Trying to figure out the puzzle.
Heart beating fast, breath shallow. A stranger’s gaze fixes on my face,
Waiting for a response? A reaction? Acknowledgement?
Confidence in conversation dwindling with every muffle.
I smile a smile undetected, unseen behind the mask.

Together with the volume turned down, learning to live in a muffled world.
A glimpse of life with less clarity for all, an experience of lost sound,
Of missing jokes and words spoken in haste;
Isolated in our worlds behind the mask. In background noise, words drowned.
A cruel experiment but with hope of progression, of understanding the daily challenge.

Some are without patience, towards those already with poor sound.
They sigh with intolerance, repeat, sigh, repeat and shout.
Eyes watering. It’s lonely behind my mask.
I’m deaf, not stupid, I want to scream out.
Communication is now a trial; we are all participants. 
Stay at home. Catch your breath. Hide out. Save lives.

Yet, some are starting to talk with hands, using gestures to give meaning to muffled words,
Pointing to aid instructions, and enunciating terms missed.
Questions repeated without the need for request, without annoyance or impatience.
Twenty twenty, a year of progression? The year people learned more tolerance and strategies to assist?
Baby. Steps. 
I hope so.

2 comments

  1. Wonderful poem, Carly. You have struck a blow for all of us who lost reading lips as an aide in communicating. Even facial expressions are gone. Pretty much eliminates in person conversations. Thank goodness I have my caption phone for phone calls or I would be totally incommunicado.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Al,
      Yes, it’s so difficult without being able to see people’s expressions. I’m glad you have found a way to keep in touch with people 🙂
      Hope you and Patty are well.
      Best wishes.

      Like

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