Poetry to read while I polish my shoes,
the boots that march me to everyday war
scuffed and muddied and blood only
on the inside where nobody sees but me;
the shoes that took me to school, battered
and worn thin from hesitation at bus stops,
changing weight from one side to the other;
the heels I wore when I sang for my keep,
the imprints of my toes on the lining
and a battered strap too tight on swollen feet.
There is black on my fingers, smudged knuckles:
like printers’ ink it only hesitates at water,
dark against my untouched bare feet.
These, all naked skin and broken nails,
are the tools of my trade these days;
they slip and tug on soft sheets of fabric
and thud unsteadily on polished floor.
They let me fall and arch and fall again,
raising me up to the stars with my back
pressing down against hell and dust.
No polish or leather disguises them,
no poetry beautifies their brokenness
or the curve of their pointed strength,
but they reject shoes and clothes and paint
and all the falsified youth that brings
and bears me steady on through the night.