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Lay for the Day
7th December

The feast day of St Ambrose, a fourth-century bishop of Milan and the patron saint of beekeepers, and also of candlemakers.


How it works, the sullen wax
is drunk up by the wick, breathed
out in a calm plume of flame,
I wondered then and a half-
century later, don’t know.

After the table emptied,
in secret, for these were for
special occasions, I’d pinch
the round crater at the top
square, press thin prints of my thumb.

The wakening sex that went
with solitude, my moody
penetration of the rain
on glass, the smoky treetops,
gleaming pavements, aches away

at my dreams once more. A tear,
almost milky with salt, dense
with a day’s wear and tear, wells
up out of sleep and puddles
the dim hollow of her eye.

Under those lids lives the glance
that first set light to my wan
heart. For all the times it’s been
torn, blown flat by troubled air,
sending the room reeling, still

it’s returned to burning clear,
still flowers and fascinates,
ascending sharp and steady
by a means whose physics I
didn’t and never will grasp.

John Gibbens
from Characters: One Life


The Lay Reader: an archive of the poetic calendar