Poems, Reconnaissance, Uncategorized

Why We Walk

The_Funeral_of_Shelley_by_Louis_Edouard_Fournier

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