Why We Walk


Byron and Shelley

As we trudged along the varied paths
of the Highland Way you did not let go
to cry, though legs ached with pain
and skewed nerves slipped out of place
screaming for you to stop.

Our last night before we go home,
I read Trelawny’s Recollections
of the Last Days of Shelley and Byron:
Percy’s funeral muddies my mind,
but I cannot unhinge the sable-eyed rival
or the torture of a lame and disfigured foot
that shamed Byron all his days. How skilled
we are at pushing our deformities into
the deepest alcove then turning away from them,
lest they outpace and overcome us.

A red-haired boy—more than a boy—
a young man—travels with us
on the flight back home. His father
who is grey and wears glasses
accompanies him. I see that the boy
is blind, and think he is—how
to say this kindly—lame of mind,
though as I watch him and his father
pace back to their seats, I see that he is
purely sightless, and I feel cruel for thinking
it was something more. All this time

I thought that it was me we were walking for,
the mess upon me and the volume of days
yet unwritten tensing with uncertainty,
smudged with hieroglyphs of caned figures
and the imposing arc of wheels.
Waiting out the rain in Philadelphia
my head slumped in exhaustion, your legs
extended in a futile stretch, I grasp
what it was we were really walking for:

the German girls whom we’ll not see again;
for Gerry, our sturdy guardian, agile as a buoy,
flecks of white in his hair and a harness of years
on his back; for the moments between the rain;

what every boy’s blindness wants to possess;
for Byron’s feet and the contents of Shelley’s coat pockets
washed up on a shore we haven’t yet visited
and may not ever walk upon.

The poem appears in Reconnaissance, published in 2017 by Homebound Publications. Louis Édouard Fournier, The Cremation of Percy Bysshe Shelley, oil on canvas, Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Dunes of Heather


IMG_9370Loch Tay

Between the castle and the Loch—
a long way by car—
we harness wet
shadowless views of fells
and sloped valleys.IMG_9572
Between the bald hills
and our partially cobbled way,
dunes of heather
roll out like quilts over
the bracken-covered
hillocks where sheep graze
quietly, unaware of anything
but the taste of clover and
the crunch of yellowed grass.
While hedges of purple
sprawl across the hilly pass,
the rain only seeks to glisten
the already blurry passing of time.


from our 2011 trip to ScotlandIMG_9407

Black Sheep Reflections

Five years ago about this time, Eric and I were on our way back from Scotland. We didn’t take in the entire West Highland Way on foot as planned, but our black sheep guides (all of them) deserve a whiskey toast.

To Leave Is One Thing

By the time we get back to Glasgow
the thistle has turned cottony
and the black sheep who has been our guide
rests quietly, dinned wheels and muddied
exterior, in the parking lot of Arnold Clark’s car hire.


On the Erskine Bridge, traffic stops
for a suicide, but we are not sad, not really.
To leave is one thing, to depart
without experience sewn into muscle and mind
would be too much.

The cabbie’s loud music turns into an opportunity.
As we approach the airport
we fill our minds of all that came before:

Central Station from the hotel window,
the Highlands materializing through the rain.
Stirling Castle and the cobbled way
toward Aberfeldy. Maple scarf marriage
and the Fortingall Yew. Haggis and scones,
bens, bogs, and roundabouts. Humming
Loch Lomond, and stealing Skye
from Clan Donald. Putting our feet down,
imagining there is no pain.

For nights to come we will dream of thistles.


Slow Steps, Hard Work

What to say of tomorrow’s

slow steps? The peaks that rise
from Glencoe carry weathered echoes
and gorges sliver slowly without
sympathy. The only way

to plea away erosion
is to chart the heart’s geology
and listen to the bagpiper’s
ageless song. The only way
to get up the mountain
is hand in hand.

for Eric

The True Weight

West Highland Way, August 2011; a little tough, a little glorious


eric in pain

The True Weight

We make a list of all our favorite moments—
best hikes, finest meals— skipping
over the hard parts—when boots filled
with muck and rain froze our hands
and spun through the plastic
of our water-proof coats, each cursed step
you suffered through pain without ever
surrendering to sighs. Cataloging
the singular bluebell doesn’t really

tell the whole story. The tiny tear-shaped
flower pressed between “A Dream” and
“Ode to the Memory of Mrs. Oswald”
in the pages of Robert Burns
does not relate the true heft of that volume—
the pages, browned and frayed, turn easily
one at a time but bound together
they hold the true weight of the poet’s words.

So too, yellow broom and wood sorrel
decorating the ascent through Glen Nevis
or the heather spilling lavender toward
the modest peak of Bien Inverveigh
can never be summarized
in one sprig of tiny rainbow blooms.

From Four Blue Eggs, Homebound Publications, 2014