Lay for the Day
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.
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.
Beneath the sea-wind-stunted
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 lovers 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
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
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.
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