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Lay for the Day
4th August

1901: Louis Armstrong was born in New Orleans on this day, although he always said he was born on 4th July 1900 – the first Independence Day of the 20th century (or the last of the 19th if you want to be pedantic, which Louis clearly didn’t).
This poem appears on both dates, since if anybody deserves to be celebrated twice, it’s —


The son of the herald’s brass tongue,
once a proclaimer of pomp
and the slaughterer’s sign,
an orphan boy came

from hunger to play on the horn
of plenty a brilliant noon
of July, to pronounce
illicit feelings

of love from the rooftops, that laid
down revolutionary terms
and made the conqueror’s
instrument a voice

of hosts it had not spoken for,
defeated and dispossessed,
the grey weight of whose tears
were turned from the bell

to a downfall of unsurpassed gold,
to the pearls that Louis
from Storyville scattered
over the blue world.

His namesake a lifespan later
set foot upon virgin dust,
but Satchmo had told us
to walk in the sun.


John Gibbens,
from The Improvised Version, Volume 1

The Lay Reader: an archive of the poetic calendar