I met a man upon the way,
had he a name, he didn’t say,
but as I rose that flint strewn track,
we chanced, upon his journey back.
I asked of him how far the crest,
and stopped to take a moment’s rest,
he said he really wasn’t sure,
quite close for some, for others… More.
I said his words made little sense,
or was I hap a little dense?
To which he smiled. “They really should,”
and when I topped the peak, “They would.”
He rested too and sat, and talked,
enquiring quite how long I’d walked,
was it a year, a month, a day?
Though mused I long, I couldn’t say!
When asked if he had far to go,
he paused; And said he didn’t know,
his journey, said, with some regret,
still hadn’t really started yet.
We spoke of much, how steep the road,
how dense the verge with wild flowers sowed,
in quiet tones of black despair,
of burdens all too hard to bear.
Of breathless views so far away,
how sweet the rose and new mowed hay;
Dark dizzied drops that close cascade
and slips and falls so easy made.
Communed we thus an hour or more,
cross legg’ed both upon the floor,
til my companion slowly rose,
and brushed the dust from off his clothes.
I begged him stay, and share my meal,
perchance more of the peak reveal?
He thanked me kindly, with a smile,
but said he’d walk another mile.
I gave him half my food to take,
and half my flask his thirst to slake,
then asked him ere he turned to go,
what waited him there; Far below?
He smiled and cupped his two rough hands,
and sighed to me “Of time’s cruel sands;
This measure beg to set my span,
and start afresh where I began.”
But why once more this dire ascent?
I pleaded with him, begged relent,
when onced the peak, why bear the pain,
to scale this hellish way again?
His eyes held mine and welled a tear,
the choice was never his I fear,
for with a sigh he pointed back,
to where he rounded on the track.
But what to see I did not know,
for nothing glared or struck me so,
no blot or scar the path disturbed,
from we until it blindly curbed.
No sign in fact that he had walked,
nor mote disturbed where we had talked,
no print to show he’d ever passed,
then slow his meaning dawned at last!
I looked for mine, one here, one there,
but found I not a single pair,
save for the two a yard aside,
where flask and meal I had divide.
The stranger sighed and bowed his head,
then scarce above a whisper said;
“I see you come to understand.”
And gestured with an outstretched hand.
“Each footprint in the dusts of time,
laid down upon this wretched climb,
stands signpost those who follow on,
to labour all these steeps upon.
Each boon a passing stranger done,
lays down those footprints one by one,
a noble act, a selfless deed,
another footstep sets its seed.
All terrors braved to save a soul,
or life plucked from dark peril whole,
a kindness here, a strong arm there,
bejewels this pathway pair by pair.
And deep the prints impressed this track,
when though full spent, upon our back,
as he could bear not one pace more,
we stoic too that trav’ller bore.
No empire built or fortune made,
has ever yet one footprint laid,
or Croesus’ wealth one imprint bought,
for each must on its worth be wrought.
For by example thus we show,
each soul the braver course to go,
to dare the pathway nigh the ledge,
and scent the rose, the haw, the sedge.”
He wiped a tear upon his sleeve,
my shoulder pressed; Then took his leave,
he said no more nor looked he back,
til lost upon that crooked track.
And there I woke; My tangled bed,
his words still shrilling in my head,
the flint strewn path still dewdrop fresh,
as clawed I through sleep’s silken mesh.
To find await, in day’s sweet light,
to ban those demons of the night,
my love’s bright face, a steaming mug,
a tender kiss, a fragrant hug.
But still that vision lingered on,
of he and me those steeps upon,
til asked what plans the day ahead,
when “Footprints,” soft, was all I said...
© Sullivan the Poet 2008