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Lay for the Day 29th December

1940: one of the worst nights of the Blitz on London. Incendiary attacks by the Luftwaffe left 1,500 fires burning in the city.


A half-built sun went up
and a ruined one came down
over the wrack of London town,
the long grey reaches of the river
where slumbering commerce stirred
between dead jetties and weed-grown wharves.

Through the wind from door to door
the workforce walks in hordes,
silent, with eyes full of words,
putting their coats on hangers
and warming up their machines,
with a spoonful of coffee for their dreams.

When the morning’s half worn off,
the styrofoam blooms in the parks,
pigeons strut and flirt enlarged
and sparrows stuff themselves with crumbs
and the overcoats tied up with string
go up to the oxter from bin to bin.

The teatime DJs warble
and the clocks play all their old tricks
till starlings fly off in slicks
to fill the evening air
where an anticyclone broods
on the subtext of office moods.

The weatherman drawn in dots
consolingly points to the chart
but there’ll be no change in the heart
that jumps in the dreams of the night
like failing vertical hold
on the last television in the world.

Down the black lanes of their flight paths
clumps of lights wink slowly past
and the show goes on with a shrinking cast
of bouncers and stumblers and cleaners and girls on the game
who knew this morning when it came
over the roofs in a ball of flame.

John Gibbens
from Falling Down

The Lay Reader: an archive of the poetic calendar

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