Issue 20 – Spring 2011 – George Szirtes

George Szirtes


A Man Without a Face

There was a man without a face 
He could not grasp it 
He could not imagine it 
He could not see it

He swam through the air faceless 
Like a bladed instrument 
Like a swatch of cloth 
Like stone rolling uphill 
Like a cloud seeking itself in a pond 
Like a likeness without a mirror 
Like a word 
Like a shout 
Like breath 
Like nothing on earth.

Am I nothing on earth, he felt his tongue asking 
Am I feather or stone or leaf 
Am I all fingers and thumbs 
All arms and legs 
All bone and no dog 
All wind and no chest

He ached in the depth of his eyes 
He hurt in the caves of his ears 
His heart dragged in him 
His liver and kidneys and pancreas 
And all his unnumbered organs 
Were faceless and unnumbered

What is it to be faceless, God asked 
Since Gods are not given to imagining 

Here take my face, said God. 
There’s nothing behind it. 
I’ve faces enough.


Fallen grey flecked, grey holes in green – Phyllida Barlow

Burlywood, Chartreuse, Gainsboro, Ghostwhite, Greenberg,
Maroon, Orchid, Moccasin, Peru, Demosthenes, Snow,
Papayawhip, Popper, Peachpuff, Hotpink, Hothot,
Darkred, Darkgrey, Dodgerblue, Drudgery, Derrida,

Fuschia, Fondle, Fricassee, Firebrick, Fenfall,
Coral, Cornsilk, Crimson, Coleridge, Coolidge, Honeydew,
Hellebore, Hartshorn, Honegger, Jet, Jellaby,
Lavenderblush, Lascar, Lightcyan, Lightlight,

Gray, Grey-Green, Garrulous, Golightly, Garrick,
Indignant, Insolence, Irked, Ivory, Ilk,
Jeremiad, Asclepius, Goldenrod, Arriviste, Glock,
Cyan, Chocolate, Cadetblue, Camisole,

Fallen Grey Flecked, Lost Blue, Amaretto, Shrubbery,
Yearning, Absinthe, Abstinence, Grey Holes in Green.

Had these been voices, the wind might have sung them
Through a hedge or an empty head. It was winter
Then spring then summer then autumn. Thunder
And lightning. The beating of a red drum.

Had it been blue guitar, or purple rose, or black Sunday…
Had it been brown study, devil’s dyke, or dun
As in dunnock… Had it been greyfriar or redeye
Or permanganate or potassium..

Had their names been their being… Had the retina
Been in service… Had the hot stores burned away
With the seasons… Had it been anything but dinner
In the provinces… Had the spectrum not gone awry…

Had it ever fallen out like this with the light lost
In the jungle of the voice with its brilliance and dust.



George Szirtes has published over fifteen collections of poetry, including Reel, which received the T.S. Eliot Award in 2005. Recent book publications include New and Collected Poems in 2008 and The Burning of the Books in 2009. He has also published many volumes of translations and is the recipient of many awards including the 2008 Bess Hokin Prize by the Poetry Foundation. For more information go to