Gayl Teller Worn-Out Walking Shoes

Who would have thought when I saved them
with an unwitting toss to this garage corner,
I would come to savor them later,
with their stained tongues loosened

over maws opened wide by many ingested miles
I walked, some alone in abounding sun seeking vision,
sometimes the inventor of my own cold, curable night,
or even on the underside of joy’s hush, the great rush,

or felt their scraping down sudden drops
I never saw coming. What sloughed-off skin—
dried sweat-tears salt lick—defiant hues,
what dirty-sweet crumbs-grit—fur-blossom-bug bits—shit

got ground into the honeycomb fibers, the sole-treads,
what untraceable flecks make such a rich journey mulch?
Ground in, our grandkids’ sweet ice-cream drippings
mixed with the rising beach sand, while we rolled

our bocci balls and roared with the untamed wind,
with feather barbs from the Flamingo Gardens Rescue Center,
where Mike and I hand-fed ibis and spoonbills
in the haven for the broken-beaked, the broken-winged,

and I walked among them, picking up the feel of their beings,
and from the company of each friendship, a little ship
moving me deeper into the currents of humanity,
as I tapped my feet and shook to the peppery beat

of the Dutch folksinger in the outdoor concert
at Grand Place, on our vacation in Brussels, last summer,
and exchanged addresses with the jovial woman akin to me,
photographed her baby with the dark eyes like ripe cherries,

ground in, the harbored tears of the lost Korean woman
we walked with for miles, till we found her hostel,
talking all that warm dark while without the same language,
with tears soaked up from strangers weeping together,

strangers from all around the world, stunned and aching
over naked human cruelty, depicted at the Anne Frank House,
so many tears, such living testament to human compassion.
Who would have thought how everyone who’s ever moved me,

from everywhere I’ve ever been, in these worn-out walking shoes,
would come home with me, rubbing through the skin of my life.
Who would have thought they would become like a child,
moving around inside me, keeping me awake at night.

Nassau County Poet Laureate for 2009-11 and the Walt Whitman Birthplace Association 2016 Poet of the Year, Gayl Teller is author of 6 poetry collections, most recently Hidden in Plainview (Cherry Grove/ WordTech, 2015), and the editor of the poetry anthology Toward Forgiveness (Writers Ink, 2011), for which she was awarded a NY State Decentralization Grant for the Arts. Director of the Poetry Series at the Mid-Island Y, in Plainview,, for 22 years, a Hofstra professor, and the originator of “Stray Feet,” a roving poetry show, she has been the recipient of the Westmoreland Arts & Heritage Poetry Award, the Edgar Allan Poe Prize, a National League of American PEN Women Prize, the Peninsula Library poetry prize, a National Federation of State poetry Societies Prize, and others.
Her website is
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