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Lay for the Day
19th September

The British saxophonist Lol Coxhill was born on this day in 1932, in Portsmouth. The poem below was written during one of his soprano sax improvisations. I decided to try and keep improvising the poem as long as he kept playing, trying to match it to the tones and the shape of his lines.
(There is another Lay for Lol on 22nd June, and images of him in the gallery called The Improvised Vision.)

The Improvised Version

She was working in a deli or bar at the time I forget
Nursing the soft white belly anyway
He wasn’t working at all then anywhere as in anywhere and everywhere
That’s she and him which makes it a love story
Which makes it a love story
Meanwhile international crises came and went
Somewhere there was a meltdown and a sub went down
Assassinations caught them with their pants down
With their parts down one another’s throats
Somebody found out about not being born bulletproof
And the guy on the roof wasn’t putting up an aerial
Did they give a funny you should ask
They just had time to get some dubious turkey breast
Courtesy of the cold meats counter past its sellby
Into a french stick trying to go straight
When the spasms came back and bang they were back on their backs
That’s the point of a love story
They gave it their best shot
It was mind over matter they didn’t matter and they didn’t mind
Someone gave a speech somewhere the hall was full of mumbling voices
Afterwards somebody asked someone what they would do if somebody did something
Music counted the only one who spoke the same language
Suddenly he got a job
They had him taking casualties back home to their wives and children
Or back to their children and husbands if they really were unlucky
And explaining could they please be injured some other time
Or they were entitled to reapply with the same injury if symptoms persisted
Between the hours of 12 and 12 midnight Mondays Thursdays and Fridays
It was depressing work to say the least
They were hoping one day to afford a house a carpet a few luxuries
After nine months he was eligible for promotion to the mortuary
He didn’t last a fortnight there were plenty more where he came from
Where he came from people were falling over themselves for that kind of work
As far as he could tell people were falling over themselves anyway
Just for the fun of it just for a hobby
He took it up she couldn’t see the attraction
She tried to tell him there was no future in it
He tried to tell her there was a tradition to maintain
People have always done it that’s the point of love
They had their little differences when they had the time
She was still working in the bar or deli I forget at the time
Spoonfeeding the joker’s busy jaw anyway one way or the other
They told her it was the service industry she was in like the church
It was bound to be there for ever
Fashions may come and fashions may go they said
But some things don’t change and your wages are one of them
They were hoping to afford a wardrobe a teatowel a few luxuries
At which point he entered one of his extended resting periods
Like scattered rain merging into continual showers
He’d been between jobs since he was filling nappies
He couldn’t see how he could have been the point of a love story
He was willing to take it on trust I mean
If you insist I’ll take your word for it

John Gibbens,
from The Improvised Version, Vol. 2


The Lay Reader: an archive of the poetic calendar