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Lay for the Day
6th February


1945, Jamaica: the birthday of the Trenchtown Rocker.




In Memory of Bob Marley


Across the lake at Crystal Palace
you were dancing, tiny in the afternoon
from among the crowd where we’d sat restless,
spaced out, wilting, waiting, sheltering from showers:
tiny in your black, ites, gold and green,
cultivating the fruit of the sower

and giving thanks continually.
On your right hand there, one of two beautiful
willow trees planted by the bank broke slowly
under its load of spectators –
reckless, keen, foolhardy souls –
and let them fall one by one in the water.

* * * *

There’s a bird that sleeps over the sea
and cannot land, unless it drowns,
yet day and night, and week after week
it braves the Atlantic: sooty tern.
The angry wave flies up to snatch it down
but like the wind it laughs the depths to scorn.

In London on its feet of clay,
beneath the golden heads that dome St Paul’s,
you are not remembered in your day.
The crown of the pride of the towers of the city of Babylon
gather round about their mirrored walls
the intensifying thunderclouds of mid-autumn.

Sending the mind’s-eye’s bird away
above the rock of the quartz-like waves,
over the world’s sea-pendulum sway,
to painted water and a painted isle,
I follow in the sunken wake of the slaves
to see Jamaica smile.

As we walked in the sun to the demonstration,
from one radio after another
the voice of the Rastaman gave salutation,
upful commandments and meditations,
so we knew you weren’t dead, my brother,
as we walked in the sun to the demonstration.

In the final stages of his melanosis
they shed his locks and he cried.
But did they tell you “blackness” was your Greek disease?
He cried, “Fear not, for mighty dread
shall be there, by your side,”
and shook black lightning from the crown of his head.

 

John Gibbens
from Collected Poems

 

The Lay Reader: an archive of the poetic calendar