“Lord, let…”: this is how nearly every sentence of Nicholas Samaras’s “The Psalm of Your Face” begins. It’s our own constant plea to God: Lord, let my neighbor be healed of cancer; Lord, let my son be safe in battle. In Samaras’s poem, the pleas “Lord, let…” are first focused on God’s imagined face. But soon (as in most biblical psalms), the plea is for the speaker himself. So, for instance, “Lord, let your face be lined” (line 1) becomes “Lord, let your face be lined with the knowledge / of my sins. Let your brow be uncreased in forgiveness” (lines 8-9). It’s a version of our prayer “Lord, have mercy”; but a more vividly imaged version. By focusing on the Lord’s face, the images here and throughout the poem create a deep intimacy between the speaker and God—until in the final two lines they merge: God’s peaceful breathing is “my slow way to you.” This poem is a prayer that I’d do well to pray daily.
Lord, let your face be lined.
Lord, let your hair be gray with patience.
Holy Father, let your cheeks be silver with long growth
as you put up with me and put up with me.
Lord, let your face be a blazon of parts
in which I can name you sufficient
to be seen in your unseen presence.
Lord, let your face be lined with the knowledge
of my sins. Let your brow be uncreased in forgiveness.
Lord, let your eyes be clear of lightning
and your foggy voice unbass itself of thunder.
Lord, let your face be lined
and your massive chest be peaceful in breathing,
the falling and rising that is my slow way to you.
Nicholas Samaras won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award for his first book, Hands of the Saddlemaker. His second book of poems is American Psalm, World Psalm (2014). His individual poems have been featured in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Paris Review, Poetry, The New Republic, Kenyon Review.