Worn Out Shoes
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Hello, my silent friend
Glaring down through
Withered winter branches
From your gothic perch of stone
From what circle of Hell
Did your long-ago maker
Pull your leering face
Your muscled, crouching body?
And how does it feel now
To be trapped in this Hell
Crouched among the smug stone saints
Your ancient eyes crusted by smog and centuries?
On these concrete circles of Hell
Winter branches clawing the urban sky
You wouldn't fit in either
On these crowded human streets.
I was born with these traveller's blues,
With these itchy feet in these worn out shoes;
I gotta keep movin', but that ain't no news,
When you're born with these traveller's blues.
I was born with these traveller's blues,
With a pack on my back that I just can't lose;
You know I'd settle down, if I could just choose,
But I was born with these traveller's blues.
I will die with these traveller's blues,
With my worn-out feet in worn-out shoes;
When my body quits walkin', my ghost will stay on the move,
'Cause I'll die with these traveller's blues.
The flag, high on its pole, pulls
Rippling outward restlessly,
Snapping bravely at the impassive
Clouds that slide uncaring by.
It tugs at its binding tethers,
Hearing the wind's promises
Of the wide green earth.
The flag does not know
That, cut free to follow the
Wind's wild call, it would
Flutter wingless, punched
Playfully by the grinning wind
Above a housetop or two
Only to drift down to the
Cold earth to lie upon the
And to dream of the pole-top
Among the scattered litter.
Me and the cat
sit by the Dead Sea
on the stone steps
and listen to the rain.
We have nowhere better to go
we have nothing better to do
and no one better to sit with
Than each other
sitting by the Dead Sea
on the stone steps
listening to the rain.
Today, the quiet grey mist
Makes the city old and mythical.
The bare winter trees and
The weathered stones seem
To drift in and out of this
World and the spires of
The cathedral are merely
Memories, almost forgotten.
I stand in silence on the
Damp cobbles of the narrow
Street that fades like thought
Before the grey of sleep, the warm-
Dressed people passing unknowing the
Pale ghosts of hundreds of years,
Ghosts with faces as faint and
Forgotten as the ancient names carved
On the church's red stone walls.
Behold, oh world,
Your Messiah has come
Bearing the Truth like a
Burden of Bad News
That shall be for all
Who wish not to think.
He cries in the wasteland:
"Make clear the way of Reason
And Science shall guide you
To silence after death.
"Take no burden upon you
Except that of unbelief;
No laws need apply
Except Nature and despair.
"If, during those long lonely nights
When you hold the gun to your head,
If you try not to think, the pain
Perhaps will go.
"You wouldn't be in this
If you didn't think about it
In the first place.
"Here is my Bible," declares
The Messiah of Now,
"The gospels of 'I'm OK,'
'Science knows All,' and
'Ignorance is Bliss.'
"Come to me, all you
Who are weary and heavy
Thinkers and I will give you
'Nada, Nada et puis Nada.'"
In the Name of Progress
(for Whom we build bombs)
The lack of Meaning,
And the god within Ourselves,
I should ride my bicycle more
Down these shady appleblossom lanes
Into the black-cobbled streets of the town.
After all, it would be a waste
Of a good Strassenbahn ticket if the
Rapture should snatch me away
Just past the Oberlinden stop,
And if I bought a month's bus pass--
Well -- I hardly think I could get
Recompensed for the unused portion
Beyond the pearly gates.
But at least, on my bicycle
If I'm taken in mid-peddle
I can do some good to those left behind.
For a bicycle is transferrable
And someone else can ride it
And they're probably going to need it
When the dark one rules the world.
I have supped
Of the sweet, subtly
Seductive Narcotics of Narcissus
And found them bitter.
Smooth as mirror
The syrup slides
Slowly down the throat
To shatter splinteringly
To multitudinous shards
And it is bitter.
In that fragile fleeting
Second when my
Face filled my sight
You slipped silently away
Into the forgetful dark
And it was
Most surely to me
These hills of Sinai are dry and bare
With only the hardy wormwood
On their red and dusty slopes
To decorate their severity.
Once, however, the rains had fallen
For the flowing rivers have gouged
Away the rock faces, leaving canyons in
Their memory and cliffsides in
But the rivers now are gone, and the sun
Rules the sky above the tortured land
That looks like an arid moonscape or
A place which the gods have cursed.
Perhaps the rain will fall again
To thunder through the desert
And tear the hills apart
And scatter the rocks asunder.
This desert could use
A change of pace.
The night, spotting us
Standing upon the cliff
Comes in from the ocean
And embraces us in
Breezy arms of darkness
And kisses our windflushed cheeks
With spray-salty lips.
She hushes and rumbles to us
Her foam-capped secrets
As we walk through the darkness
With the ocean far below.
In the springtime
When kings go off to war
And that cruel April
With his dismal drizzle
Can be seen approaching
Seeking whom he may devour,
I stand upon the high desolate
Places among the crumbled
Columns as lifeless now as
The space between the hard
Stars that cast their ancient
Light upon these ancient stones
That took the tragedy with them
When they fell so long ago
Leaving only pathos and motorbikes
To keep the lonely planet company
As it spins into springtime again.
I slept in Venice on a bed of sighs,
Then sailed the Adriatic where Neptune speaks.
We stormed the Peloponnese to the cries
Of thousands of terrified Greeks.
I am a man
[and what is that?
Of unclean lips
And I live
[these long days of grace
Among a people
[on these grey stone streets
Of unclean lips
[the air is dark with our speech
And my eyes
[genetically complex, I assure you
[nada, nada, et puis nada
Woe to me!
I am ruined!
[and we're not sure why
Lulled by the lullaby
Of the sway and rattle of rails
I gaze out at the snowy hills
Lit by the full moon of Ramazan
And the lighthouse minarets
And my eyes ease shut
As we rattle on northwest
To misty Istanbul.
I sailed into Byzantium
But saw no dolphins
Only mist-shrouded spires
And an empty buttle of Raki
Floating messageless in the
I walked the streets of Byzantium
But saw no dancing flames
Only many-peopled sidewalks
And traffic filled with "taksis"
Crowding and filling
The noisy asphalt roads.
And if I speak the tongues of men and angels
But have not this love that sells for all that I am
And all I can afford then I am but a man,
Which is nothing more than a minute's worth
Of talk over Turkish coffee in the dusty streets
Of Istanbul in the morning.
Twilight is heralded
By calls to prayer and flights of birds
And I give nothing away
To this dusky city of minarets
And these dusky people
Who offer me tea in carpet shops
And I find that loneliness comes
When you must keep all for yourself.
All these eastern streets
Brimming with smokeshrouded traffic
Carpetsellers and hawkers of sweets;
Dust and dirtclothed children
Eyeing tourists with desperate looks.
Flights of pigeons and newspapers,
Golden mosques and markets of old books
Here share the crowded city with
Innumerable darkeyed people passing,
Jostling and pushing past all
Kinds of shops and shoeshiners asking.
Your memory shines into my mind
Like a ray of golden sunlight
Across a darkened room and
Into the sleepcrusted, smokereddened eyes
Of a hungover man.
On a corner of Omonia Square
With the traffic a river of dust and steel
Standing with my backpack unweildy
In the crowd waiting to cross
I glance to my right, and an old man smiles
I smile back and look again to the traffic
I feel a tap on my arm and I turn, startled
To see the old man show me his hand
His hand full of brown almonds
Almonds the same wrinkled brown
As his smiling face.
He motions to me to present my hand
And I bring it up to him, my face puzzled
He pours the almonds in
I say a confused "thank you" and
The light changes, the
People surge fore-
ward, jostling & push-
Ing me and the old man
Becomes a cap among the heads
And then he's
So I eat an almond and walk on.
You who have bound the world
With the fire-forged fear of doom,
Be it ever so covered with sculpture
This gilded marble's your tomb.
If old Peter were to climb from the dust
And to walk through these portals today
Do you think he'd be happy to see this huge place
And be pleased that you built it this way?
As I walk these streets
Of Rome in the springtime
Accompanied by the ghosts
Of Augustine and Keats
We watch the children and the pigeons
Dancing in the plazzas
Accompanied by the street players
On flutes and mandolins
The facades and the fountains
And marble-muscled statues
Watch with us
In silent contemplation
The rushing and the spinning
The roaring and the dinning
Of the flower-spangled plaster-peeling
Glory that is Rome.
My candle, caught in a breeze,
Burns low now, crouching
On its white wax haunches,
Guttering flame rising
From the gnarled stump
That sends stalactite roots
Down the sides of this
Little green bottle.
The time is announced
By the stature of this
Candle to be late
And so I gather these
To my chest and rise,
Sending the courtyard
To sleep with a single
In those days I wore a rope
As a belt for my tattered jeans
And you wore your father's watch
Precariously slung on your narrow
Wrist and I wore my hair long
And you wore Birkenstocks on your
Dusty feet and we ate cotton candy
Beneath the Eiffel Tower and I -- you -- we were
Happy and laughing in our passing youth
In those days.
© 2002: This site and all poetry by Alan M. Bruce, updated occasionally.
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