Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Sam's Shoes

Sam's Shoes
Lucille Gang Shulklapper

Sam never talked much about himself. He told one long
story over and over to his sons:
When I was ten... maybe eleven...
the Polish soldiers picked me up and ...

Here he would pause, see himself walking,
I was looking for food,
on this dirt road,
it was World War I,
you wouldn't want to know,
they just picked me up,
a skinny, hungry kid.
They needed me,
to bury dead soldiers.

Bodies were thrown
everywhere, some piled
on a horse-drawn cart.
There was a smell
I'll never forget.
They lifted me up,
put me in the driver's seat,
put a whip in my hand.
I was scared. I didn't know how
to drive a cart. So they told me
to beat the horse.

At this point in the story, he
always moved his feet,
dug his heels into the avocado carpet,
and slid the front of his soles
back and forth.

I beat the horse like they told me.
But the horse fell
into a ditch
and all the bodies fell out.
They took the whip
and beat my bare feet.

In America, on rainy days,
Sam wore black rubbers
over his shoes when he walked
to his grocery store.
A hole in the tip of the right rubber
wasn't big enough
to make him throw them away.
After dinner, the smell of shoe polish
was stronger than garlic.

Precisely at five every morning
after Sam retired to Florida,
he slipped white vinyl loafers
over thin white socks.
He walked four or five miles
until his heart started to fail,
his legs swelled,
and he struggled to move
along the catwalk.
When the orderlies
carried him down the stairs from the catwalk,
he insisted on wearing his white, vinyl shoes
to the hospital.

Cheap, worn, old shoes,
tipping slightly to one side,
stand in neat rows in Sam's closet.
Some of the seams show
where the stitching comes apart.
Flakes of dirt and dried shoe polish
lie in the deep creases
of the white vinyl loafers,
The black, tasseled dance shoes,
gleam from the back of the
closet. He wore them three times,
I really need these? He had asked his Helen.

What else? You think you can
wear your white shoes
to your grandchild's wedding?
Throw them away, already.
Get yourself a new pair.

Inside his coffin,
as was his wish,
a white shroud
covers his naked body.
His bare feet rest
on their heels. His toes,
the nails waxen and yellowed,
point upward.

Sam's Shoes previously appeared in The Substance of Sunlight: Ginninderra Press


Lucille Gang Shulklapper has published poems and stories in many journals as well as in four poetry chapbooks, the most recent titled In the Tunnel. She has also modeled, sold realty, made recordings for the blind, taught reading from k-college, and led workshops for the Florida Center for the Book and workshops facilitated through the Palm Beach Poetry Festival. Presently, she tutors third graders in reading as a senior volunteer, and lives with her husband, a retired pediatrician, and a rescued cat named Zoe.

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