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.