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Lay for the Day
1st February

1884: the first volume of the Oxford English Dictionary is published, covering A-Ant.
The lexicon below is longer than the average Lay for the Day, but it’s over a good deal quicker than the OED, which took 44 years to complete, the tenth volume of the first edition appearing in 1928.


A is for Apple, an innocent fruit,
Put here first for the aliveness it shows.
The core of its globe, far from evil’s root,
Reveals to teeth the fiveness of the rose.

B is for Birds, that are nowhere confined,
But make on the air or water or earth
Pictures of freedom they give to the mind,
Of flight beyond bounds of death and birth.

C is for Cat, most luxurious creature,
Accustomed to walking while others ran,
Thing exquisite of habit and feature,
The only one to domesticate man.

D is for Dog, a model of loyalty,
A born companion though we’ve proved unkind,
Stunted his sturdy frame, made a frailty
Of his faculties, his sharp eyes near-blind.

E is for Ear, the labyrinth of sound,
Whose winding ways lead direct to our hearts.
Musical instruments look to compound
In their forms the forms of this organ’s parts.

F is for Forest, whose dark fills with fear
Some, gives their sole belonging to others.
Whatever the dangers lingering near,
The deadliest is elsewhere – their brothers.

G is for God, who’s called Lover of Souls,
Father of Jesus, and not him alone,
Thanks to him, whose love is least own of goals,
Who draws us near his universal throne.

H is for Hunger, the breaker of hearts,
Third of four horsemen to ride in the End.
Upon a black horse from heaven he starts…
Now remember starving Lazarus, friend.

I is for Islands, which we cannot be,
And also for Is, a wave of the sea;
Also for It, which is other than me;
Also for I, who am other than thee.

J is for Joinery, Jesus’s trade,
By which the last table he shared was made,
The cross the next day he hung from and prayed,
And the boats wherein his friends were afraid.

K is for Kisses, O my fair sister!
Moon-faced, modest, silent one, unpainted.
It takes a fool’s courage to resist her
And brave folly to be better acquainted.

L is for Love, humbler and stronger than
Everything – the everlasting law,
Our passions, death itself. The longer man
Is in longing, the more love he longs for.

M is for the Moon, planet of feeling,
Whose courtly dance leads on variation,
Whose light-washed face, concealing, revealing,
Is Sorrow’s and Beauty’s illustration.

N is for North, the home of the winter,
Whence cold wind goes forth and the days of dark,
That leave summer’s fruitful pride disinte-
grated; whose power and glory are stark.

O is for Orange, the fruit of the south,
Where they drop like harvest moons from the tree
And stand in the hand, and taste to the mouth
Like rising suns on a deep leaf-green sea.

P is for Poetry, fruit of the tongue,
Rooted in the heart and branching in thought,
Language-leaved and music-flowered, whose dung
Is grief. Spirits are birds the fruits support.

Q is for Quest, best gift of the giver,
By the hard way through terrors and torment
Of doubt, rock chasms, flames, a deep river
To cross to the groves and dwellings foremeant.

R is for Rocket, technology’s pride,
Lucifer launching himself at heaven,
Or a flame from man’s heart sent shooting wide.
Back to fallen earth fall Nasa’s seven.

S is for simple Souls, Spirit and Sin,
Sex and Snakes and Superstition; for Skin
And Skeleton, Secret and Seeming, Spin
And Stillness; for Saint, Soldier, Searcher within.

T is for Trees, the pillars of the sky
And guardians of breath, which give hearts strength
To feel the force their limbs are twisted by
Established in a harmony at length.

U is for the Universe, the “one-turned”,
Whose spinning fragments, clouds of glowing gas
And starry consorts came to be, we’ve learned,
When God the pin pulled from the primal mass.

V is for Vulture, bird of ill-repute,
Counted a villain for an ugly look –
An undertaker in a shabby suit –
One of the shadier turns Nature took.

W’s Water, without which nought lives,
Molecular image of trinity,
The lowliest, loveliest stuff earth gives,
Up from which emerged Christ’s divinity.

X stands for the unknown, as in Xmas.
Most letters live in the sociable port
But X only leaves its home on the isthmus
At night, sax in hand, to coax and exhort.

Y is for You, and I wish you were here
For I think of you often and fondly.
Yours was the voice I was longing to hear,
Even when what you said was beyond me.

Z is for Zion, the hill of the King,
And Zebidee, whose sons called Christ a friend;
For things that don’t end or begin, like Zen,
And Zeal, whereby repentances spring.

That completes this criss-cross row.
Reader, with your leave, I’ll go.


John Gibbens
from Makings ’89-’91

The Lay Reader: an archive of the poetic calendar