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Lay for the Day
14th July

The feast of St Phocas, a patron saint of sailors in the eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea – perhaps because of the similarity of his name to the Greek word for a seal, phoce.
Phocas was a hermit of the fourth century, a skilled gardener who grew food to provide for pilgrims and the poor. When he was impeached as a Christian, the soldiers who were sent to kill him stayed the night at his guest-house without realising who he was. They asked Phocas about the whereabouts of Phocas, and he offered to help them find him the next day. During the night he dug a grave for himself in the garden, and in the morning he revealed his identity. His guests were taken aback, but he explained that he regarded martyrdom for the faith as the greatest gift, and they killed him and buried him in the grave he had prepared.

A Shanty

Beneath the sea-wind-stunted oak,
the sea-rain drifting in like smoke,
and beading in her rust-coloured cape
bedraggles the hair on her nape
where she waits on the long rocky shore.

Her lover’s boat slides a black prow
in past the unseen headland now.
The bell-buoy clangs, rarely, on the shoal,
a shivering note like one her soul
sends to the soul of him she waits for.

The mate bids the captain beware –
the captain at the helm to dare
the channel. There, at the head of the bay,
eyes unseen a year and a day
have watched for the day this ship shall moor.

”Beware,” the bell mutters, “beware,”
and the mate “Beware.” And “Where
are you, lover, with the heart you took?”
rings a soundless voice from the rock
that went through gales and the waves’ white roar.


John Gibbens
from Zeus’s Camera


The Lay Reader: an archive of the poetic calendar