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Lay for the Day
2nd July

The feast of Saints Processus and Martinian, early Roman martyrs. According to tradition they were gaolers of the apostles Peter and Paul in Rome and were converted by them. They are patron saints of prison guards.

A Man Outside a Cage

Pleasure lies in walking round it,
solidly built and intricate,
the bars and hinges gilt and chased,
locks of impenetrable steel.
Odd they seem designed to fasten
from within. None of those I find
on my circuit, despondently
squatting by their world’s neglected
bound, have the look of the keepers
of keys. Scratching themselves, they stare
inward, towards the rich copses,
the recreational pools, frames
and fountains where their dominant
brethren, chattering, sport and splash.

They’ve never turned a hair or turned
their heads to hear me calling them
from outside. I’ve waved inducements
of food and other rarities,
trying to catch an eye – some sparkling
fragment scavenged along the track,
shard of glass or aluminium,
soldered maze of snapped circuitry…
Nothing doing.

I used to sleep
in the dust, curled tight in a kind
of embrace against it, as dusk
began to fall, lights played inside
among the leaves. Am I slowing
with age, I’d long been wondering,
since each circumambulation,
beginning at dawn, eats further
into the hours of daylight. Once
I was finished well before noon:
lately the sun’s been far declined
by the time I’m back at the stick
that marks my starting. Now at last
I know.

My left boot heel’s broken
at the corner, and those inside
run barefoot. In a muddy rut
just in from the perimeter,
clearly shown in the low red light
today at the end of my walk,
was my print inside.

The cage is
I turn my back on it,
looking out over level waste
far as the eye can see – the wide
and spectacular emptiness
of my narrowing possession.


John Gibbens
from Zeus’s Camera

The Lay Reader: an archive of the poetic calendar