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Mask Confusion

A Poem by Dr. Barry Lubetkin

I have not smelled fresh grass for a year I have not smelled smoke from a cigarette for a year I have not smelled garbage truck trash for a year I have not smelled another’s bad breath for a year I have only known the smell of my own fear of dying, my face pressing against a cloth covering that has felt so foreign to my nature. And it has made me angry at its encumbrance and grateful for its protection. A year ago I scorned the naked faces of the young that exposed me to illness and death. And I continued to scorn the cult led fools and sheep who beyond any reason remained naked. And now I am told by a government I finally trust to divest myself of my N95. And to breathe deeply again, the sweet air that just a year ago was an enemy that terrified me to my core.

But I am still confused. All around me strangers continue to show me only their eyes. What do they know that I don’t? What do their eyes imagine that I am afraid to?

Variants and mutants and tampered doses, and strains from India and Brazil, and booster shots and coverings so porous that the germs will dance through them. And is this to be my future? Masks on strings hanging off my ears like unholstered guns, ready to save my life whenever I go inside a place anywhere, everywhere? I fear I must memorize the smell of fresh grass.


Barry Lubetkin, Ph.D. is the co-director and co-founder of the Institute for Behavior Therapy in New York City. The Institute for Behavior Therapy is the oldest private cognitive behavior center in the United States.

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