He holds his fingers, swaddled
in plastic, then linen, with the slight bend
of a benediction, sprinkling –  like so, like so-
what seems to be

After a rub
of my dark-nubbed toes, he dips
pawed fingers
into a cannister of black as thin
and deep as spiders’ bellies, fresh
widows’ skirts, sin
in tunneled night.  He is

short, born where height
adds insult
to climb, and since I’ve been perched
upon an upholstered throne, he stands
at my feet, stroking now
my blushing-if-they-could
shoe ribs.

His caress penetrates
the leather which serves as medium,
conductor–how we manage
in this unjust city–and, as he kneads,
paints, buffs, lightly lightly
whips, I think–not about what you
are thinking of right now – but of the feet
of statues,
patina-draped icons
in cathedral dim, whose feet have been supplicated
into stumps of tongue by those
seeking blessing–though here, everything’s
who blackens my uppermost sole, blesses
me, making my worn

It is something of which we do not speak.


I am posting the above rather odd re-write of an old poem for dVerse Poets Pub Open Link Night hosted by the wonderfully intellectually curious Claudia Schoenfeld. It’s about the very few times I’ve had my shoes shined (professionally) in New York City.  I always find it a very affecting experience, and one–and I’m not a foot fetishist (that I know of) – that I find strangely intimate and spiritually satisfying.  The shoe shine people have always been just incredibly kind.  It’s a hard job so if you do get your shoes shined – it’s worth giving about 100% tip.

I have edited this twice since first posting.  Taking out and putting back the last line!  Any thoughts?! 

Explore posts in the same categories: poetry, Uncategorized

Tags: , , , , , ,

You can comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.

36 Comments on “Shoeshine”

  1. brian miller Says:

    huh, the last line kinda sits heavy…i always talk to the shoe shine boy…pretty cool what they can do for shoes…i have not had a shine in years but i remember shining with dad on sunday mornings….gotta look your best you know…nothing like have yours shined though when you do it yourself…smiles..

  2. jasmine calyx Says:

    You amaze me. You are one of the very best poets I’ve read. Phenomenal poem. Excellent line breaks.

    These are some of my favorites:

    “He holds his fingers, swaddled in plastic, then linen, with the slight bend of a benediction”

    “into a cannister of black as thin”

    “widows’ skirts, sin”

    “He is short, born where height adds insult to climb”

    “in cathedral dim, whose feet have been supplicated into stumps of tongue”

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Thanks so much. It’s still a bit rough around the ending – I had a different end but you know when you revise something there are different threads that don’t always fit together quite right. Thanks. k.

  3. ayala Says:

    I love this, Karin. Great capture.

  4. hedgewitch Says:

    You definitely recreate that sense of intimacy, k. I often feel oddly embarrassed at the relaxing pleasure of having a total stranger wash my hair–I think it may be something similar–one has permission to *not* focus on the other, unlike being with a lover or whatever, so the mind melts and drifts off. I especially like your reflections about the feet of statues, worn to tongues(which are indeed organs of speech, telling of that supplication) and the role reversal. An interesting and well-layered piece.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Thanks – I had a last line – “It is something of which we do not speak” but the poem changed to not be so much about that connection – so don’t know. Anyway a work in progress. k.

  5. Mary Says:

    I have never had a shoe shine; but you capture the experience so very well. I do very much like the ending, the thinking of the feet of statues, and how the shoe-shine man blackens your ‘sole’ and makes the worn new. A lot of symbolism here!

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Thanks. I actually put back the extra line now just as you were reading. There is this odd thing – where it’s very intimate but also very removed, even if you do talk. Thanks so much, Mary.

  6. Okelle Says:

    Lovely — especially the notion of the leather as medium. It made me nostalgic for the shoeshines I would get in Grand Central on my way to job interviews.

  7. Jody Lee Collins Says:

    Karin, I have no technical comments about this, only the ‘ahhh, I know what you mean’ kind. In the times we’ve been in New York City of a weekend or two, or visited Chicago (and sometimes here in our City–Seattle) I have been astonished to watch the sincere kindness and grace these magicians exude while performing their service. (tho’ never on footwear of my own). You captured it well….

  8. PJF Sayers Says:

    Karin, I love the build up to the last stanza. The statues, the imagery you have created here, and this part is fantastic;

    “patina-draped icons
    in cathedral dim”

    Beautifully turned phrase. I know it is popular in NYC to have your shoes shined, but it is also in Mexico. I have only had a shoe shine a few times, but it is almost intimidating (for me) having someone sitting at my feet, that I don’t know.


    • ManicDdaily Says:

      It is completely intimidating. I really should have written more on that aspect. I don’t know how people can just sit there reading the paper. k.

      On Tue, Nov 27, 2012 at 11:59 PM, ManicDDaily

  9. never had a shoe shine but love foot massages if that counts…smiles… love how you describe him..the bit of almost-intimacy in a fast rushing by city…very special

  10. Dick Says:

    Both an intimate depiction of a humble task and a striking exercise in sensuality. Great piece!

  11. really neat anytime we see something that strikes us in many levels of meaning. Really great metaphors in here. excellent tone and voice here Karin. Really fantastic piece. Thanks

  12. Susan Says:

    This poem needed to be written, and you did the subject justice. I have worn the shoe and felt the blessing, a bit embarrassed by the throne. It is impossible not to think of saints, Madonnas, and even of Jesus washing feet while there. Big Tip.

  13. Sabio Lantz Says:

    I love poems that give me a chance to look at a normal experience with new eyes. I’ve only had my shoes polished once or twice — I should do it more often — I am a slob.

    When I lived in a village in India, I had my face shaved every few days buy a barber who came around to our village. Us village men met in a court yard and got trimmed as we sat on the ground.

    In China, I would occ. get my ears cleaned — actually by blind folks (a common street profession).

    All these, like shoe polishing, were intimate. I still see hair cuts that way.

    Interesting religious imagery in your poem — I have none of that in my experiences — just intimate.

  14. Steve King Says:

    Wow…this is a great rendering of the humble experience (one of the great treats I afford myself when coming into the City by train. For me, this resolves perfectly in all the layered aspects mentioned by you and Susan above (without the last line.) Very nice job.

  15. ladynyo Says:

    Sometimes I read the comments first, just for some starters…but this time…no.I’m shooting straight from the hip…and heart.

    The pathos of this is so heartfelt….deep and affecting…and humble and humane.

    I come here and each time….I am renewed in some important (and spiritual ) way….and this poem doesn’t lag in this experience.

    No, leave the last line in…(I peeked at Steve’s comment)…It goes to a hidden heart of the matter. Or something like that.

    A marfvelous poem, K…and so damn beautiful….it haunts. The humane ness of this is just…shimmers.


    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Thanks so much, Jane. I appreciate your kind comment. Yes, I don’t know re last line -what I was trying to focus on was the slight embarrassment of something like this – all the undercurrents that are not articulated. Anyway, it’s still kind of a draft. Thanks much. k.

      On Wed, Nov 28, 2012 at 11:32 AM, ManicDDaily

  16. Grace Says:

    That last stanza is fantastic K ~ I enjoyed the details of the man and act itself of shining/blessing the shoes ~

  17. Brilliant – I think the last line transcends the thoughts discussed in the comments. It puts each person on “equal footing” – one receiving a service, one giving it – but implies tacit respect for each other that needs not be mentioned. The whole poem is an internal exploration of the emotions that accompany that relationship and as such is completely new at least to my knowledge and therefore makes this poem rare and valuable.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Thanks so much, Gay. It’s a funny kind of experience. I’ve honestly not had it done – shoes shined – very often, and I am always a bit bowled away. Not much talked of in poetry, so I thought it was an interest topic. Thanks. k.

      On Wed, Nov 28, 2012 at 12:48 PM, ManicDDaily

  18. nico Says:

    I think this is very well done–the comparisons between shoe-shining and sacrament are very powerful, giving a quite mundane experience a deeper meaning, just what a poem is supposed to do in my opinion!

  19. janehewey Says:

    this is a completely engaging poem. You honor the shoe shiner agilely. The intimacy with a total stranger was highlighted for me with your references to a blessing or benediction in the beginning- reminded me of the priest placing little wafers on our tongues during a catholic church ceremony. there he is, close to your face, feeding you, knowing nothing about you. I thought your “shoe ribs” in the middle to be clever and sparking Karin-style.

  20. Mama Zen Says:

    The imagery in this is just incredible. You’ve really captured that strange intimacy.

  21. rmp Says:

    such an interesting piece; my mind definitely was not in the same place as you well knew, but you presented an intriguing insight.

I'd love to hear from you!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: