The Red Shoes

Pulling out government coupons for the first time
In a Krogers twelve blocks from her walk up
So the bagboys and cashiers and seniors
Browsing tabloids would all be strangers,
She’s slow motion through and past their stares.
She feels every nuance of her body
As a tense repressed trembling, a calculated
Conscious stepping, just as much a dance
Of desperation as that solo waltz
Around the brass pole in the gentleman’s club
She’d never do. Nothing said, but the gist
Of the story bared, Lonnie gone and the car
After missed payments, no degree, nurses aide
Not enough for even store brand soup,
And those looks from everyone contribute
To the scrutiny she’s already put herself under,
The wondering what’s become of her
Least dashed hope, like that man in the dominion
Of his cubicle at the welfare office
Teasing out the names of men who stayed
The night. She’s been made small. She’s been cut down
To size like that little girl with the red shoes
Told by the angel she’d dance for all
The vain children, dance through the moonlight
And the villages and the dark dreamy woods,
Who never stopped even when she stood begging
The executioner not to lop off her head,
Then letting him harvest her feet instead.
So she seasons her sauce with damp salt
From her own eyes and her back to her son
In his proud sneakers and best sullen thirteen
Because he won’t ever know she’s good
As dirt, a polite little clot of nothing
Waiting while that laughing bureaucrat
Carried on in front of her long and personal
On the phone. Approved was the word he used,
Meaning yes to those two sacks which would last
However long they must like the whole
Brutal fiction of grace, the executioner
Giving the girl crutches after the axe.

:: David Moolten, in Ploughshares (winter 2007-08)

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