168: What Does It Say

168: What Does It Say

168: What Does It Say

What Does It Say
by Tess Gallagher

that the only shoe repairman in town
has retired? He who mended suitcases
and purse straps. Who loved to chat
but could turn taciturn. How we laughed
over my fondness for shoes that were
clearly worn out. “Fair-weather
shoes,” he pronounced like a benediction,
trying with seasons to extend

the life of my loafers. A tall man with nimble
fingers on an oversized hand, the gaze
surgeon-like. How I admired your Lazarus
revivals! For it’s feet in failing shoes
that rule the world. Barefooted, we had
the ways of birds, equipped from the womb—splashing
in puddles, running after dark, bearing our troubles
and joys place to place. Addiction to shoes

came later. Whether quietly falling
apart, coming unglued, or
scrubbed down at the heels, they’d still
find a dance floor once in a while and shake
the body around to remind it how, in or out
of shoes, everything depends on the feet.
In your imagination toward repair, you gave
hope and salvage to those without money

for new shoes, or who, like me, had to
eke out their days with unmanageable feet, depending
on a makeshift tangle of sandals—a few cloth straps
stapled to a cork sole— thereby asking you to take up
the world of miracles. Shoes that had worn
themselves to feet until pain
took off its hat and stood on the curb.

You seemed to connect with us through time, cheating
it day after day, with small, momentous
restorations. And what, after all, is a world
that walks around
only in new shoes,

that stops asking for a guy like you, a man true
to this gradually
falling-apart era, alive
to our need to be treated
mercifully, our wish
to be mended and remended?

Someone to companion our fragile hopes
in the form of these emptied-out
unsalvageable steps.

“What Does It Say" by Tess Gallagher. Copyright © 2019, from IS, IS NOT by Tess Gallagher. Used by permission of Graywolf Press.