by Leonard Kress

Leonard Kress_Barefoot

When I was younger, I was always leaving my shoes

behind, always, though, with a good excuse.

One time, the March on Washington to protest

the bombing of Cambodia, Kent State, after settling down

for the night in a church loft, awakened

from sleep to romp on the Capitol lawn to play hide


and seek by the Doric columns, someone had hidden

my things. For the entire weekend I went shoe-

less. The grassy mall, Joan Baez—we had awakened

the planet’s consciousness, it seemed, the Pentagon had no excuse

not to implode, its walls tumbling down,

its frayed-suit denizens joining the earnest frolic in protest


of themselves and their deeds. An idea they’d surely protest.

It happened so often my soles resembled hides,

thick, calloused, impenetrable. So it was easy to amble down

the chunk gravel path by the Wissahicken without shoes,

side-stepping horseshit with friends, excused

from their lack of hardiness, though clearly awake


to the chance I might be onto something, in the wake

of others who’d gone barefoot before. They don’t protest

as we pay homage to Chief Tedyuscung’s statue, poor excuse

for heroic sculpture, the last of his tribe, nowhere to hide,

gazing west and chiseled naked, not even shoes

for protection―from smashed beer bottles flung down


from the summit. Once when I felt the need to calm down

ready for some sort of awakening

I found a huge zazen session, removed my shoes

and entered the campus gym, ignoring protesting

locked-out gymnasts. I tried to hide

The fire blazing in my knees, having to excuse


myself, barefoot again, for what seemed an excuse

of a counseling session. Winter was bearing down,

and the smug, bored psychologist could not hide

her diagnosis. When YAHWEH woke

up Moses to propose his mission, wary Moses protested,

but still approached sacred ground, removing first his shoes.

Leonard Kress published poetry and fiction in Missouri Review, Iowa Review, American Poetry Review, Harvard Review. Recent collections: The Orpheus Complex, and Walk Like Bo Diddley. Living in the Candy Store and Other Poems and his translation of the Polish Romantic epic, Pan Tadeusz by Adam Mickiewicz published in 2018.