Ode to Shoes
for Carol Jenkins
You are the machinery that conveys us to the world.
You speak a language we all know: the dumbed-down shape,
the well-worn sole, the made to last.
You are not just figure in a landscape: kitsch or camp,
you flaunt your rhetoric in our mind’s eye; red or white,
denote desire, thick or thin, you see us through.
Some of you aspire to be kind:
the Middle Kingdom’s butterfly
(the lotus blossom stands aside).
Hiroshige’s horses, like their owners,
wait in footwear made of straw. The sky is red.
Spitting in a sandal made of straw and calling spirits of the dead
will bring them back. Or so it’s said.
The living, too, like words, have ghosts that colonise the mind.
Sabots, your attitude is clear
the moment you walk in the door.
Shoes! You bring your messengers hot foot.
How many toes have journeyed in you round the globe?
Flotillas form in corridors of hotel rooms;
you buddy up at temples and at mosques,
and practise patience outside sliding paper walls.
You nudge each other under beds.
You fit yourself to what is in
and what is out of style, including feet.
You wrap yourself in plastic clouds
in labs and surgeries and wards. You walk on air.
No matter that the world is full of others just like you,
We call you ours.
You dog our steps.
You clog our thoughts.
The place we found you never leaves us.
You keep us a step away from what
the grass seed understands.
You pinch us tight, lest we forget.
How many personalities do you assign to us?
What selves are in our closets or at large among the world?
What is it that your many tongues are trying to relate?
Comic objects, why don’t we start laughing
when we find our feet in you?
Times change, and we with them, and feet contract and swell.
Space invaders, sneakers walk where gumshoes used to tread.
Brothel creepers, why can’t you deliver what you say?
Arch-supporter, where are you at times?
Canvas trainers, coquets of the trade,
you sniff the everywhere unspeakable in streets
where dogs have law: your ripple soles and waffles
ferry us through farce and tears.
Fur, skin and feathers change their shapes
to mask our list of pedal pains:
forefoot follies, fractures, bunions, plantar warts and sprains.
Country boots haul tractor smells, guns, rattan, straps and
spurs together skew-whiff in our heads:
you mark the measure of our walks,
you keep feet dry, if not our minds.
Sandals, chastely ravelling your paradox of light,
you scatter parcels of the sky we see through you.
Gravitas, you speak from tree and horn
that keeps the mould of Oxfords, brogues.
Sex-workers’ shoes, you bring a world that never sleeps:
stilettos, pumps and platforms prime consumption and exchange.
Those who hang about you speak of sale and hidden costs.
In shoes, to feel the earth beneath one’s feet
or mingled with them makes no sense.
What’s natural is fluid as the action in a dream.
Barefoot doctors, heroes once in peasant movement days,
wrap up their feet in labelled skin while former clients
walk in nests and hair through woods and steppes.
Overshoes and combat boots, we know your yeoman pride:
copper’s boots, we watch you primp and strut your Nazi glitz;
Roman sandals, hobnailed toughs, we see your passion play;
you, dress shoes on a coffined corpse, absurdity that fits.