Why on earth have I kept this single boot,whose mate disappeared somehow these years ago?I ought to get rid of this one, yet I clingto the time when an old man made the pair to order.Twelve bucks flat, back in 1985.Why cling at all? I was lonely that month on Lake Como,
despite my dream that being at such a retreatfor scholars and artists implied I'd soon be important.I felt forsaken, though sometimes I hiked with a mannamed Jim, who was doing research on manufacturingin Renaissance Florence. How many hikes? Quite a few.I recall the lovely landscape, but little of Jim
apart from his looking like a boyhood classmate named Billie,his real first name, spelled just the way the great singerspelled her own. Both hiker Jim and that kid back thenhad piggish noses. Some teased poor Billie for his,but I don't believe I did. I could be as unkindas any witless teen, but Billie—why bother,
one way or another? He was neither friend nor foe.We went off to different colleges. If we metback home during breaks, he'd spare a moment for me,and I one for him. Just small talk. For example,he said he never slept enough nowadays.Why think of that from what little chitchat we shared?
Why remember how I spoke of a chemistry classthat baffled me all one term? (In the end, the professor [End Page 90] gave me a D, I think, just to see me gone.)Already a jazz fan in high school, I once asked Billieif his parents had chosen his name for Lady Day.He blinked in confusion. I wonder in later years
if he grew up to be plain Bill. I hope he didn't,though I can't say why I should care. I easily picturethe Lombardy landscape in which Jim and I would walk,its quaint, cobbled mulattiere, ancient mule pathsthrough oak-cloaked hills where peasants in tiny hamletswarily greeted the two of us in Italian.
I spoke the language more willingly than they did.They favored their dialect. I feel to this daysome amazement at the putti folk sculptors had wroughton the limestone arches above their communal wells.Oh yes, this boot and its long-departed partnertrod some memorable ground. It saddens me
to have this odd one hauled away to a landfill,no matter I know that I'll forget it in time.I soon lost touch with Jim, just as, beforehand,I'd all but forgotten Billie. Yet we two never werein touch, not really. To me, and likely to classmates,he's only a blur. Which means I may be the same
to him and to them. Or rather it means I must be.
sydney lea is author of twenty books, including thirteen of poetry, most recently Here. He was founder and longtime editor of New England Review. In 2018, he and Fleda Brown published a collaborative book of essays called Growing Old in Poetry.