Wild Goose Poetry Review, No 34, Spring 2018
The tide recedes. Dad and I see
gulls’ footprints impressed, scattered on sand
like a flurry of gingko leaves,
webbed, fan-shaped, directionless.
They tell me nothing about birds—
random tracks, no pattern to discern.
I can trace human footprints, though,
observe the purposeful ambling
as people follow their urge to go
toward the waves. One couple headed south.
A group of four, two of them very young,
eastward to the waterline, westward home.
My father’s path as he pushes his walker: a trough.
He’s unable to lift his feet much. He says
his track looks like a one-toed sloth’s.
I remove his shoes and socks for him, then
roll up his pant legs, watch
foam splash his ankles again and again.
The coastal flats do not record
the gulls’ tracks, nor our own, for long;
but somewhere in Tanzania, explorers
find footprints bipedal and five-toed,
millennia older than our species, purposeful
in direction, like us. In stone,
familiar patterns that mark our paths
to and from the sea.
My father turns, and waves at me.
Bio: Ann E. Michael lives in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley region, where she is writing coordinator at DeSales University. Her books include Water-Rites, The Capable Heart, and Small Things Rise & Go.
Getting old is no picnic; humor and optimism help. Not all of my poems tell “true” or personal stories, but this one is based upon fact (my father did compare his tracks to a sloth’s). The reference to human footprints is the Laetoli trails, which I find fascinating–how long have we “been human”? What does it mean to be human, especially as we reach old age and reflect back on our lives? I’m glad that people like my dad can savor the moments.
Here’s a link to the Smithsonian’s page on Laetoli tracks. http://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/behavior/footprints/laetoli-footprint-trails