She won’t wear a mask today,
Even though the numbers are up.
Karen has already survived worse,
The death of her sister,
She was once fired for getting pregnant.
Her husband raped her,
But it wasn’t called that back then.
Last week she was served mouldy toast,
When she asked for the manager
Two teenage servers snickered behind the coffee machine.
She’s seen the memes.
She remembers a time when books mattered.
She was valedictorian
but it made no difference,
The job she wanted went to the boss’ son.
Sometimes she takes up two seats on the train,
To make up for the times
Mark and Simon and Greg spoke over her in meetings,
or told her she should smile more.
Sometimes she gets so angry
That her voice crackles and her skin burns,
But society deems her too old for rage,
A commodity belonging to the young,
To be bought and sold as angsty songs, piercings, rebellion,
and Tiktoks about gender pronouns and their “authentic self”.
So today she’s traded in the safety of a mask
For the freedom to exhale
a lifetime of being gagged.