Cambridge: Bare Feet

CAMBRIDGE (3): BARE FEET

First exploratory walk: Mill Road
and environs. A girl, walking, alone,
some distance ahead.

Tall, slim; curly dark hair cascading
onto shoulders. A long skirt,
flowing down to dainty ankles,
and bare feet.

I looked twice, and then again.
Autumnal weather, wet pavements,
and bare feet. Flagrant, glorious,
bohemian bare feet!

My random wandering suddenly
acquired new pace and purpose.
The white feet glimmered against
the dark sheen of the footpath,
hypnotising me, as I followed her,
from a circumspect distance.

She led me across the green expanse
of Parker’s Piece; the bare feet
no doubt squelching
in the damp turf.

She tossed her head;
the curly locks beginning
to glisten in descending drizzle.

I followed, in a trance. She could have
stepped out of a Pre-Raphaelite
painting, or been one of those gypsy
daughters of Augustus John.

She turned onto Mill Road itself.
Could she be going to the college?
No; she walked past the college,
turned left, entering,
I now saw, to my surprise,
a graveyard. There was
a graveyard, right next
to the college, and I’d never
noticed it before.

The white feet now
shimmered over loose shingle.
I winced in sympathy; imagined
sharp stones cutting into soft soles.
But she strode along, oblivious;
those soles must be tough as leather.

I loitered on Mill Road, respectfully
leaving her to her devotions. I gazed,
unseeing, into shop windows, waiting
for her to reappear.

Ten minutes later she emerged
from the graveyard, crossed
the road, and disappeared
into “Arjuna”, an appropriately exotic
emporium of grains, pulses and spices.

The bare feet lodged in my mind,
accompanying me back to my tiny bedsit,
where there was barely room for me,
let alone extraneous mental luggage.
They hovered in my head,
palely gleaming, ghost-like,
for the rest of that evening.

I rehearsed conversational gambits
for our next meeting, entirely unaware
of the sad truth: I would never
see the girl again.

So preoccupied was I by the bare feet,
the irony of the graveyard adjoining
the college eluded me:
that hothouse of fervid young minds,
all that striving, to study, to succeed,
to make new friends. And right next to it,
the visible reminder
of how it all ends.

Like the last item I posted in this blog, this is another poem in the continuing, autobiographical series of reminiscences of my student days at Cambridge (1976-79).  Incidentally, the shop called “Arjuna” is still there, on Mill Road, forty years later!

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