Friday’s Poem: My Father’s Shoes

I cleaned grassy streaks and smudges

from my tennis shoes, scrubbing,

exacting each swipe around toes,

knowing tomorrow they will just go lousy

with evidence of spring again–

when I recalled you setting up the shoe shine kit

to clean your chestnut-colored wingtips

or trusty black Florsheims.

I wondered what all got cleaned off as the

edgy aroma of shoe polish all waxy in round tins,

filled the air with its magic and your industry.

Maybe a rim of dust from an auditorium clung on,

or dabs of dirt from an outdoor concert venue.

It’s mountain mud that gets caked on my soles,

detritus snatched from serpentine paths,

odds and ends decaying at riverfront.

But your important wooden box held

one foot then another atop a foot-shaped platform

as you slathered on polish, rubbed it smooth

then deepened its color with stubby brush

and then took the buffing cloth,

seesawed over supple leather in

a rhythmic shuffle of hands,

toes given special attention.

Each shoe was held to the light with

your deft-fingered hands stuffed inside.

Oh, they gleamed clean and fit as fancy footwear.

It was a mission completed; you smiled at me,

saying have to put your best foot forward

and chuckling, but it was a motto you lived.

Maybe you polished your shoes each week

because the kid you were owned a good pair for church

another for school; best to care for things scarce and in demand.

Best to look like whoever you are meant to become: you,

a musician, conductor, teacher, administrator,

a man your parents were proud of without saying so,

the whole person your wife always knew you were.

It’s true you wore other shoes to the garage

and yard, on the tall ladder where you perched

above grass as I steadied it near the bottom,

Mom hollering be careful, Lawrence!

as if you were a neophyte.

Every couple years you scraped and painted

our house so it was freshly dressed

in optimistic yellow, bouyant turqouise.

I think you wore deck shoes (you liked to sail) or

scuffed Rockports beneath loose coveralls.

This was all long before you no longer painted

and your hearing faded and a quadruple bypass,

before your eyes widened in fear then shone

like separate bodies of light as you

rounded the corner to God

and I stood by your bed fixed by your stare,

saying, it’s alright to let go–go Home, you are loved.

But before then it was lots of things,

yes, it’s a shoe shine kit I recall today,

your shoes all restored. You went to work

in suit or tux to shape and lift each note,

steady on the podium, swaying like a man dancing,

ushering forth music from orchestra, symphony, band.

How those shoes glowed, how they slid, tapped;

how much beauty and good they brought forward,

feet happy to carry the man, my father.

But, too, I think as I slip on my sneakers

for another woodsy walk in peace–

even the old ones worn on high rungs,

your toehold sure in the simmering summer sun–

even those quite did the job.

9 thoughts on “Friday’s Poem: My Father’s Shoes

  1. May an angel carry these beautiful words of daughter love directly to your dear father in heaven, Cynthia. Having known your father as my first cello teacher, then conductor of our high school orchestra, having watched him conduct the summer city band concerts in the outdoor shell auditorium at the park by Central Jr. High – oh the memories, – of such a wonderful, talented, dedicated, humble, servant of the arts, and most importantly of all, your father, dear friend. How one moment in time can so sear into our hearts and memory bank – the shining of a pair of shoes, – the lessons he taught you in that simple act – put your best foot forward. Carry on. Much love to you Cynthia.

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