‘Paper Face’ by Greg Gilbert

Paper Face (a Sculptural Wish for the Hands)

This led to this led to this led to this

I’d grown afraid of the pains in my body
So turned away, lost alignment
With bone, sun & prayer
With insect feet
That saxophone the skin
And the smell of mint leaves
Rubbed between fingers

Became a paper face
Divorced from a spine
And a thinness that could slip between salt
Could slide down torchlight

And when I dared to look again
After life-saving mutilation
I begged for readmission
To my body

A sculptural wish for the hands
For the constriction of clay
Drying on skin
For a coherent form

A compulsion to draw
Unmade sculptures
As tribute to that body long gone
As rebuke to amnesia of contour

Tumorous, reduced figures
Hinting at bodies

This led to this led to this led to this

And all those little fictions
Banking up like debt or leaf mould
Could suddenly be shown
As faceless handless statuary
An erasure of identity
Which made for swift production –
Furious inking
When I was supposed to be sleeping

And soon I was bald and buried
Beneath them

What do they tell
These convalescence drawings?

Nothing I could tell myself to my face

Greg Gilbert is a poet, musician and artist from Southampton, England. His debut pamphlet, Love Makes a Mess of Dying (Smith|Doorstop), was one of Carol Ann Duffy’s ‘Laureate’s Choice’ publications in 2019. Twitter @GregDelays