by Karl Patten
They walk together down the street –
Easy paces, easy strides, a bit
Of stop and shuffle – writing a poem.
The stepstepping eyes of the feet
Are lithe, never gawk or blush.
They look and look – calm potatoes.
Hopscotching girls, cathedrals,
Pigeons, funerals, bus-stops,
Trees, do not notice the feet
Measuring them into poems. What
Touches, the tough sidewalk surface,
Matters most to the feet, their
Demesne exclusive and proper.
On that terrain left foot, right
Foot are confident, come down
Time after time, having long
Construed the offs and ons of slips
And balances. Only the knees,
Other upper joints and twining
Muscles vex the feet, could
Deflect them from their poem.
Their only enemy is the head.
from Touch: Poems
Comment: This poem had a memorable origin, which has nothing to do with its worth, but seems right to mention here.
On a sunny day in August, I was sitting on a doorstop across from the portal of the North Transept of Chartres Cathedral, and I jotted down what I was seeing. Those details appear in stanza three, chiefly. The rest of the poem developed later that fall.
I was taken by the notion that feet, just walking along, could write a poem. I knew that poems come from one’s whole experience and that they are never written by the head, though of course that can play a guiding role. The grittiness of the sidewalk and the particular ways of walking really mattered, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the legs. I did not know how the poem would end until nearly through with a full draft, and then it become obvious.
I did know fairly on that poems in English are written in feet, generally, and I liked the idea of the feet “measuring” the world seen into poems.
Finally, I should add that the dedication to Estragon came naturally, for he is the bum in Beckett’s Waiting for Godot who has trouble with his boots and his feet. I sense that Beckett would have approved of this.