Jul '02 [Home]

Poetry Feature
Shoes (Socks Optional)

Editors' Preface
Poem Titles
Selling Shoes ~ Miles Coon | Ursule Molinaro's Shoes ~ Barbara Foster | Pastime ~ Stan Friedman | A Plea to the Vogue Model ~ Martin Galvin | Blacksmith ~ Maureen Holm | Nothing Dates an Outfit Like  .  .  .  ~ Vicki Hudspith | You Must Accept ~ Kate Light | Not enough for me ~ Rochelle Mass | Victoria McCabe ~ Jim McCurry | Obligations Toward My Shoes ~ Richard Pearse | Ode to Toe Socks ~ Stephanie Scarborough | Grandpa's Affair ~ Lori Williams | Compagnia della Calza (Confraternity of the Sock) ~ Terri Witek | In My Rhinestone Model Tee's ~ Ginny Wray | Bankrupt Farms ~ Virginia's Shoes ~ Rob Wright

Contributor Notes

The 12 Section

~ . ~ . ~

Editor's Preface
Shoes (Socks Optional)

Buy one, get one free. You too can prove that the $3500 boot is as uncomfortable as the $200 one.

Primitive man invented shoes because he had to. Treks over rugged terrain, rocks, hot sand, snow, thorny underbrush, passage through the soupy swamp, adaptation in an ever-changing clime, were impossible without protection. An involuntary "ouch!" "arrgh!"—flesh-made words, if you will—would scare off game or alert an enemy to his approach. He needed to avoid injury, so he would not become game himself. Running away and running after. Slogging through hell.

The Indo-European base for shoe (sqeu) means to 'cover or hide.' The earliest footwear was cobbled from what was handy: grasses, leaves, branches tied around the feet with vines. Attempting such assembly now would restore our admiration for the shoemaker and our ancestors. Once we had shoes, we could take them off and—'aaahh!'—dangle our feet in a cool stream or basin.

Examination of the 17,000-year-old cave paintings in Lascaux, France tells us a good deal about hunting and hooves, but very little about footwear. The Egyptians had sandals. The Romans had strong, tightly laced ones, secure and good for combat. Moccasins developed worldwide; animal hides, soft and cozy. Compare the footwear complements to medieval armor. Socrates, not much of a walker, preferred his curbstone seat, barefoot or in sandals, to incite youth to rebellious thought­­and to bad-mouth poetry and poets. 'What is real, and what isn't?' he asked. 'What you see isn't there; only a semblance of what is.'

The teaching of the 18th century philosopher Bishop George Berkeley, that the material world owes its reality solely to the perception of it, was answered by Dr. Samuel Johnson with a dramatic gesture.

After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley's ingenious sophistry to prove the nonexistence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it — "I refute it thus."
(Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson (Book 3))

Boswell does not report whether Dr. Johnson injured his foot while making his point.

Aesthetics and fashion played a role in what shod those who came before us and what shoes them now. The practice of binding women's feet to achieve the highly prized, delicate shape or size and the modern torment of women's high-heels to accentuate the line of calf and thigh—each to deform or contort the body to an ideal physical beauty—seem odd evolutions.

Shoes reveal a lot about the wearer: occupation, station in life, recent activities engaged in, even personality traits. What do psychologists say of an old woman who lives in a shoe? Sherlock Holmes could solve crimes by astute observation of a suspect's shoes. Time was, a woman's magazine cautioned readers that a man in black patent leather shoes was a very slippery character. And beware the man whose shoes aren't polished: Of course you like him—you'll just never be sure what he'll do next.

Let a woman park her pantoufles in a man's bedroom, and they may win his affection just as she does. Flaubert writes to Louise Colet:

Come, I'll take another look at your slippers. They are something I'll never give up; I think I love them as much as I do you. Whoever made them, little suspected how my hands would tremble when I touch them. I breathe their perfume; they smell of verbena­­and of you in a way that makes my heart swell.
(Selected Letters)

A shoe is no mere object, then. Reality may be in the perception. Even footless, it is powerfully expressive once truly possessed by the owner. Van Gogh's paintings of old, worn shoes: How much life they contain! They give us a picture of the man himself. Shoes are companions which the man may take for granted until circumstances reacquaint him with their wonder.

I notice the jerking movement my foot makes each time my pulse beats. . . . [I]t was as if catching sight of my shoes I had renewed with a kind old acquaintance, or got back a part of myself that had been riven loose.
(Hunger, Knut Hamsun)

Though neither poetry nor the shoe have been perfected except on rare occasion, it's the way things are. With a life of their own. Both a romantic and scientific idea. Magritte's shoes turning into feet or feet into shoes illustrate the intimate interchange ("Le Modèle Rouge"). What things can say to us. Wear the Gucci's to impress yourself and others. Write a poem in the shape of a boot.

Many of us, like Ezra Pound in St. Elizabeth's, "begin with a swelled head and end with swelled feet." (Robert Lowell, Notebook 1967-68) Keats "stood tiptoe upon a hill." I don't know what kind of shoes he was wearing, but this pose was far less eloquent than his final 'awkward bow.'

I moved recently. Being both superstitious and nostalgic, I did not like throwing out my motorcycle boots last week, the ones I've owned since 1967. They had a lot of kick left in them.