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Jo Balmer: a poem


Inscribed child's leather sole, Wallbrook, London, 290 CE

Now, suddenly, he was wearing shoes.

I remember that first pair. He was four

and, mimicking his namesake, waging war,

one-to-one combat in the race to lose.

He'd hurl them off while I cajoled, coaxed,

as if struggling to shed that part of him

I had dressed, had turned out, before hobbling

home defiant, swerving my hand. I wrote

his name in Greek on the side – precaution,

yes, but now, as he ran, he'd stamp himself

like a scribe on the city's sludge and silt.

One kick by the stream and the shoe was gone.

My legion moved on. I went home to Asia,

Ilium. His mother stopped writing. Each year

I swore I would go back. I never did.

By now he'd be married, maybe kids

who might drop their own shoes at the river.

Somewhere in those sky-crushed October streets

his name lingers like a relic, a leaf

pressed between wind-rattled stones, still caught there.

The leavings of our dust-sketched prints: Hector's.

This poem is from Ghost Passage (Shearsman), which was published this year.

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