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Lay for the Day
8th August

1923: the swimmer and film-star Esther Williams is born in Los Angeles. She was going to represent the USA in the 1940 Olympic Games in Tokyo, but the Second World War intervened. After being spotted by the impresario Billy Rose (whose wife, Eleanor Holm, had also been an Olympic swimmer), Williams was featured as Aquabelle #1, opposite Johnny Weismuller’s Aquadonis #1, in a pool show in San Francisco called Aquacade. Taken up by Hollywood, she shot to stardom in 1944 with Bathing Beauty, which was built around her, and had typically fantastic water-ballet sequences directed by Busby Berkeley. It was second only to Gone with the Wind in that year’s box-office takings.


Single on the dusk canal
this yearling sails,
whistling for company.
I stop the bike
and whistle lowly too
for company.
She swims close up to look,
long-necked like you,
and gaps her noble beak
for a hedge-bird’s three-note peep.
Afloat in her cygnet-fawn,
and as yet unaloof,
on the City Road Basin,
unfinished perfection.

John Gibbens
from The Smell of Thyme

The Lay Reader: an archive of the poetic calendar