‘The Missing’, for BBC 100: T.S. Eliot Prize Winning Reading
As if their bodies became lighter,
ten of those seated
in front pews began to float,
and then to lie down as if on
a bed. Then pass down the aisle,
as if on a conveyor belt of pure air,
slow as a funeral cortege,
past the congregants, some sinking
to their knees in prayer.
One woman, rocking back and forth,
muttered, What about me Lord,
why not me?
The Risen stream slowly, so slowly
out the gothic doors
and up to the sky, finches darting
deftly between them.
Ten streets away,
a husband tries to hold onto the feet
of his floating wife. At times her force
lifts him slightly off the ground,
his grip slipping. He falls
to his knees with just her high-
heeled shoe in his hand.
He shields and squints his eyes
as she is backlit by the sun.
A hundred people start floating
from the windows of a tower block;
from far enough away they could be
black smoke from spreading flames.
A father with his child on top his shoulders;
men in sandcoloured galiibeas; a woman
with an Elvis quiff and vintage glasses,
a deep indigo hijab flapping in the wind;
an artist in a wax-cloth headwrap:
all airborne, these superheroes,
this airborne pageantry of faith,
this flock of believers.
Amongst the cirrus clouds, floating like hair,
they begin to look like a separate city.
Someone looking on could mistake them
for new arrivants to earth.
They are the city of the missing.
We, now, the city of the stayed.
from A Portable Paradise (Peepal Tree Press, 2019), © Roger Robinson 2019, used by permission of the author and the publisher.