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Lay for the Day
4th September

1957: Governor Orval E. Faubus calls out the National Guard to prevent nine black high-school students from attending classes in Little Rock, Arkansas, incidentally demonstrating the fatuity of a white ‘supremacy’ that requires soldiers to protect it from children.
These fantastic-seeming events are commemorated in Charles Mingus’s composition ‘Original Faubus Fables’.
The first part of ‘The Blue Lion’ appears on 28th August. The next part appears on 9th September.

The Blue Lion part 2

The blue lion is a green river,
a brown river rolling,
clear water rolling over the heads,
woolly heads of the elect.
They bow all in white
to the water, they put their heads
in the hands of the baptiser,
they submit to the water
in the jaws of the blue lion.

Sometimes she lives in the country
where the blue lion stalks
and sets the dogs to baying,
and sometimes she lives in town
and has finery and hears a piano
from mulatto to quadroon,
octaroon to Creole.
She does a dance from Paris, sings,
she puts her head in the jaws of a lion.

He picks up a hammer.
He picks up a hoe.
He picks up a guitar.
He puts down a dollar
like any other man.
He picks up a shotgun
when the dogs are baying.
He picks on his woman.
She packs up his bags.

She packs fruit, she picks cotton,
she bust the suds
in the white folks’ yard.
She bears witness
never heard by the ear of man.
She grows old, she knows bitterness.
Her daughters grow up to be black women
like her;
they are the blue lion.


John Gibbens
from Three Histories


The Lay Reader: an archive of the poetic calendar