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Lay for the Day
4th January

A day for the adventurous to die.
T.S. Eliot, full of years, in 1965; Donald Campbell, suddenly, in 1967, in an attempt on the world speed record in his boat Bluebird.

The Fool

He comes down from the hill,
with a black and unclipped poodle
idling at heel,
a bending stalk of grass
between his teeth. The poppies shake
in summer wind;
the sky is behind him.
Tall rain-clouds, static, piled up on
the skyline, roll
at last over the crags.
Ditches burst, cisterns flooded, young
crops beaten flat.

Later, sat by the wall
looking down, letting the night fall,
dew wet the sedge,
he rises with fat stars
of autumn started to glimmer,
drops on his face,
hitching up his collar
against the veering gust that drives
the small dead leaves,
and drifts past the chapel
to a bed among the long stones,
speechless as them.

Meanwhile looms were busy,
yearlings trotted to the butcher.
Logs split and stacked,
we waited once more for
winter to cut off the passes.
He grew more grave,
like empty crowns of ash
at sunset, neither here nor there;
also filthier,
daily nearer to blent
with the flinty ground, depleted
and somnolent.

When the mud had frozen
he passed away, whom we’d called “fool”
for no reason.
The doctor and priest both
attended and were not required,
who’d also guessed
at a name for the care-
carved face we couldn’t place, but felt
we’d met before.
“The sea,” he said in death’s
fever, “the sea is beautiful.”
We took his word.


John Gibbens
from Zeus’s Camera


The Lay Reader: an archive of the poetic calendar


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