Walking down Columbus Avenue
passing the bronzed fire-fighting heroes
I saw a young derelict with bearded
and clouded face walking,
his arm outstretched as though frozen,
in the midst of a soliloquy --
he was dressed in Salvation Army
oversized clothing but he was barefoot.
His red feet were swollen to twice their
normal size due to gout
or arthritis and he shuffled
as if walking on boards.
A block further I passed
an older man screaming and
red with winefire-
his feet were also bare and swollen.
And I remembered a third man
who sleeps in the Panhandle
in the sun by day (who knows
how he survives the night?)--
he wears layers of baggy clothes
and his hair is long and matted
both his hands and feet
are naked and swollen.

In 1966 & 67 young bare feet
of boys and girls walked
San Francisco concrete streets
defiant with the austerity of youth
in imitation of earthwalkers
holy men and Indians.
These same feet now jog
in $30 Adidas thru the streets & parks.
On Brooklyn waterfront 1962
I remember the winos I let steal
wine and brandy from the liquor store
I worked in - their feet and hands
red and swollen but wrapped
in any rag they could find,
bundles of rags warmed their feet against
icy winters. Each cold
morning they came to me with
small change and lowered eyes
and told me who had frozen
under old newspapers
in darkened underground cellars.

© Allen Cohen

This poem is included in This Far Together Haight Ashbury Literary Journal Anthology 1980-1995
edited by Joanne Hotchkiss, Alice Rogoff, and Will Walker.