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Lay for the Day
1st September

1983: Korean Airlines flight KAL 007, bound from Anchorage, Alaska to Seoul in South Korea, is shot down by an interceptor of the Soviet air force, and plunges into the Sea of Japan with the loss of all on board.

KAL 007

High in the cold and rushing, before-morning
Dark, mercy was not shown. Sleeping, yawning
Into the unknown opening of the
Immediate future, lit so softly,
Two hundred and sixty-nine lives waited
To get off the plane, anticipated
Or doubted, in dreams or out, elated
Or troubled. Who knew they were fated?

They cross the alert, ever-dreaming screens
And the star-fighters drop their magazines,
Stub cigarettes and run for their machines.
With combat gear they put on pride and fear.

Now we know more. They flew too near hidden
Suns and burst in flames from the forbidden
Air. The air itself continued to chase
Smoothly away from the forbidden place,
But the water broke and received burning
Wreckage, bodies, bits, engines still turning,
Which it gently embraced and took to heart.
They suffered and died and have played their part.

Scattered, floating or sunk, unseen, untold,
The non-arrivals do not know their cold
Flesh turns solid political gold
Nor hear great mouths mourning them with warnings.

We hear that we are angry. The paper
That lusts after Justice wants to rape her.
Our most glorious comrade rises from bed
Today with the world falling on his head,
Which may yet crush him flat. He picks a hat
And heads for the office. A dying cat,
Once, squawling under the wheels of a truck…
Another of God’s creatures out of luck.

One idle thought, remembering that call,
Can bring cold and rushing dark to us all,
A high wind to break you and make you fall
In the end, if your head will not bend.

So spare your judgement, heads of state, until
We’ve seen your tears. For if they wouldn’t fill
One silver salt-spoon – and they do not yet –
What do you propose to bring and set
In the scale-pan? Let the father’s wife,
Brother’s sister, mother’s son and daughter
Bring tears drawn from the well of each life.
Fire and air weigh nothing against water.

If you don’t know pride and fear are the cause,
If you don’t know what’s ours and theirs is yours,
Then no sleep will creep past your locked doors
One night, and you'll lie, startled with remorse,
Going down, feeling the great unfeeling.

John Gibbens
from Makings ’77-’83

The Lay Reader: an archive of the poetic calendar