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Lay for the Day
22nd November

On this day in 1968, US television showed its first interracial kiss. It happened in a distant region of “the final frontier” – in outer space, between the paunchy lecher Captain James T. Kirk of the Federation Starship Enterprise, and his set-to-stun communications officer Lieutenant Uhura, played by Nichelle Nichols.
Fifteen years later, on 30th August 1983, Guion S. Bluford blasted off, the first real-life African-American astronaut.
He came home safe and sound. This poem is about an imaginary compatriot who didn’t.

The Astronaut Adrift


In the slow no air where my walk’s a dance
the voices crackle their consolations

fainter and fainter, and fade on the chance
they claim of a bright side yet. Ad hoc plans

drift off, and here I go round in silence,
bereaving blue earth of some suited bones.

I am the twinkling of an eye, the lens
through which an unending sends its moments.


Roll and tumble, little star…
Through the sweat of my forefathers’ arms
I slipped up here,
further from harm than their wildest fear
or shackled hope would have launched me.

With voices thickened
by second-rate air,
they sang aloud or kept beneath
their tongues their praise of a freedom
foretold for me to live in.

My mothers bowed down
by labour raised me
to cartwheel with heavenly grace
across the face of Africa,
alone in the eye of the Lord they love.

Among our Father’s children
who would choose
to be flying in my shoes
beyond the curdled storms,
the sparkling simple seas

where they were tossed and lost
and I have effortlessly crossed,
a sparrow He wouldnÕt let fall?
Above a ball of blues
Jackson, their black son, wheels.


The child is chasing a fly,
the fly pushes open a blossom.
I taste the zest of orange on my teeth
and a tiredness over my heart.

Then I could drift to sleep
and I and that sleep would never part.
You bear a great honour, they said,
but both I and it weigh nothing now.

I hung by the thread of my snaking umbilical,
fine as a capillary.
A consummation devoutly to be wished,
to go away from all flesh.

I tug it again in disbelief.
Above my head the naked junction rears and gleams
in the sunlight I’m alone with,
me and my only love, that planet.

There are treasures down there for the hero
from one to zero counting his air.
In a deep-space freefall
I miss them all.


The States undergoing their night
Blaze their martyr no white
Cross nor send the red rocket’s glare;
No pointing spangles fill
That barren banner, no lights bill
Their One-Night-Only star.

Is America all in the dark?
From up here not a spark
Shows a highway or a city
Or a burning ghetto.
From Buffalo to El Paso
The continent’s unlit.

Though sackless, black, and in a coat
Of silver, as I float
Above their roofs I bless my kids
Like Santa and unload
Prayers, that my pinprick passing goad
As bold, less futile deeds.


Few can have the luxury
to count down breaths exactly.

The sun watches over me,
the earth is my company.

Soon you shall drop in the sea
down there, one short of the three

who entered this emptiness.
Passing my antipodes

tonight, comrades, don’t pity
my end, but remember me.


John Gibbens
from Three Histories

The Lay Reader: an archive of the poetic calendar