Blame the shoes for my tears.
After saucer-eyed half-tone photos of soon dead
children, images of fenced-in hollowed-out souls
with starved, bird-like bodies, and rough-hewn
wooden villages seething with life destined
for Blitzkrieg oblivion; after the cattle
car, heaps of hair, and gold-cloth stars
I cried over the shoes.
Randomly piled, cracked, gray and shrunken
with time, in styles and sizes to suit
every taste, I couldn’t help but imagine
the stolen feet they’d embraced. Footwear
formed from animal flesh, now bent, rippled
and bulging with distinct foot shapes,
I saw stillborn remnants of lost lives
in those pediform death masks. When my
grandmother died I found shoes
like these, perfectly shaped to her foot, old fashioned
as Yiddish inflected English. She’d sailed years
before Kristallnacht, New York’s harbor
sparkling like crystal, like hope. A girl
cowering in a fetid ditch, she escaped
the blood-spattered rampage that took her parents
from a world the War erased. “That was the old
country, tateleh,” she quavered
as I stood near her father’s whiskered portrait,
proud of my bristly teen cheeks.
“In America, we don’t have beards.”
Returned to daylight, I blinked like a newborn
on streets where all men are created equal.
Eschewing faces, I glanced down
to ethnicities of loafers, pumps, sneakers, boots,
sandals and flip-flops. Despite decades
and thousands of miles, I felt history’s heel
and the gravity of my own dumb luck. Conscious
of every footstep, I walked in well-fitted shoes.
from Tinker's Damn, a new volume of poems available at http://homeboundpublications.com/tinkers-damn-bookstore/http://homeboundpublications.com/tinkers-damn-bookstore/