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Lay for the Day
19th December

1944: the birthday of the palaeoanthropologist Richard Leakey, the son of Louis and Mary Leakey, who continued their pioneering work in the study of human evolution.
The sequence which begins below was inspired by Richard Leakey’s book with Roger Lewin, Origins Reconsidered: In Search of What Makes Us Human (1992). The second part can be found on 12th September (the anniversary of the finding of the painted caves at Lascaux), and the third on 7th August, the birthday of Richard’s father, Louis Leakey.

Originals, i–iii


Luit used his wits
and strove to be alpha male
with favoured access to all females.

But another, Yeroen,
assaulted him one day
with a sidekick.

They tore his balls off
and left him bleeding to death.
The roots of politics,

said his keeper,
whose brother guts were wrenched,
are older than all humanity.


Horse and bison,
rhino, goat and bison,
bison, deer and horse

over, through and within each other
over and over
for twenty-five thousand years.

Why speak of Rome and Greece
and Britain
which have lived but for instants,

and not of these,
the longest culture of all?
They found their church in a rock,

their church of hands and signs,
herds of horse and bison.


I remember Arnhem
as a boy of eight or nine
whose imagination
powered the powerful machines,

Lockheed Lightning,
Tiger tank among the pines
and sandy walks
where the Allies blundered

and lost bloodily.
Typhoon, ’88,
their weight and scales
of green iron,

were my knights in armour,
my dragons,
and the afternoon happy
in the sunny woods.

John Gibbens
from Three Histories


The Lay Reader: an archive of the poetic calendar