High and Low

She never complained of the indignity,
the way, still crouched on the floor,
she had to gather up the boxes,
listen to the mocking of the tissue paper
rattling beneath her fingertips,
face the last whiffs of the rebels
whose owners had rejected her, saying things like,
"They pinch," or "My toe rubs at the front,"
or, worst of all, because she never knew why,
"No, I don't think they're right."
Sometimes, remembering the state of their nails,
or noticing that their socks hadn't matched,
or that they had, out of vanity,
worn a size too small for too long,
she would feel superior, vindicated,
when they walked away, their feet
carrying the same weight as before,
because their wallets were no lighter,
and their hearts had not been touched.
In these moments, she would remember her own feet,
tiny like those of a Japanese princess,
so slender she needed the elusive Slim,
and she would bury her hatred of them
in the shoe boxes, like coffins,
that lined the shelves of her sanctum,
the place where they were never allowed,
the room where she would disappear,
keeping them in her power for a few minutes,
checking on whether she had it,
the sequined pump, the black spike heel,
the Italian loafer, the ruby-red slippers
that would work their charms, cast their spells,
whisk them from lowly earth to the highest clouds,
if only she could produce it, in 8 1/2 AAA.
Sometimes, she would keep them in suspense,
pretending she had overlooked it, bringing out
boxes of others, unsuitable to their dreams:
navy-blue walking shoes, heavy-soled wing tips,
solid Oxfords when they asked for pastel sandals.
Sometimes she even convinced them that these were what
they wanted--she dropped words like cushioned impact
and fallen arches--and they nodded, worried,
frowning a bit as they agreed to take them.
But these were the ones she despised the most,
they were too easy, pushovers in their fallen nylons,
and when she retired, after thirty-eight years,
she spent most of her time barefoot in her garden,
all the shoe boxes in her house dusty except one,
which contained the only thing she had ever wanted:
cerise patent leathers with satin bows,
still one size too large for their owner.

:: Holly Hildebrand, in If I Had a Hammer: Women's Work in Poems, Stories, and Photographs

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