DRYSALTER – POEM BY POEM
The Poem — Hymn to the Faces.
Hymn to the Faces
A wall of photographs from nowhere,
overnight gallery of wide-eyed mugshots fills
the side of city hall. Whoever did this
took ten hard hours, ladders, nails, a spirit level.
Now it looks as though the wall before was naked.
Patient queues are forming: mothers, brothers,
guards in tired suits, hunched grandparents
scan the rows they cannot reach. Some cry for
what they find or don’t: missing, late, wanted.
Early sun, unhelpful, blinds the gloss surface.
Steam hits from grids, cables warm. Someone
works to keep the city live while the ritual plays out.
No one dares say what they all think:
These are just shapes on square paper.
This is not my son, and this is not my daughter.
Author: Michael Symmons Roberts
Award-winning British poet (1963)
Pub: Jonathan Cape, Cape Poetry
Why I chose Hymn to the Faces:
On my prayerwalk past the poetry shelves this morning, Michael Symmons Roberts’ Drysalter’s pristine paperback spine caught my attention. It needed the handling of a reader. I pulled it off the shelf and browsed through it while continuing my prayerwalk, which soon morphed into my poetrywalk, always a pleasant way to start any day.
It was not long before my walking ceased, a cup of tea brewed, and Drysalter and I retired to my reading chair. Why had it taken so long to open this wonderful book? Never mind, because it took very little time to find Hymn to the Faces.
My reading chair is opposite the bookshelves festooned with family faces, all in black and white. I am now among the “patient queues forming:” I am looking for the face of my Great Uncle Rube. Was there a wanted picture? There must have been. Was my great grandmother ever in a queue, searching for her son’s face? Rose would not have needed an “Early sun” to blind her from recognition. Her tears would wash away words never spoken. Now, more than one hundred years later, I understand why there are so few pictures of Uncle Rube, why he moved away from the Bay Area, and why Rose’s tears remained as secret as her words. Mugshot or not, Uncle Rube served jail time for embezzling from his employer, Levi Straus; it did not matter that the money afforded him the honeymoon he’d promised dear Meggity.
One poem is not enough. Drysalter is now on my nightstand, where I fear sleep, for a while, will not come easily. – Sunny Solomon
Also available from Michael Symmons Roberts: Mancunia; Selected Poems; The Half Healed; Burning Babylon; Raising Sparks; Soft Keys; Ransom (March 2021).
The author’s work is not available through Bookshop.org. Please purchase through your favorite Independent Bookstore.