Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Shoemaker’s Wife

When I was about
Eight years old
Me and my mom
Lived above
A shoe repair shop
That never seemed
To do any business
In fact
I often wondered
If the joint
Was still open
Or not
I had never been
Inside the place
And I had never
Tried to get any
Of my shoes
Fixed there
I used to fix
My shoes myself
By putting pieces
Of cardboard
In the soles
To cover up
The holes
It worked
Pretty well
Unless it rained
And I had
To step into puddles
On my way
Home from school
We had no TV
Or even a radio
For that matter
So I had a lot
Of free time
On my hands
With literally
Nothing to do
Or anyone to do
Nothing with
So I did a lot
Of wool gathering
And day dreaming
I would invent
My own games
Make my own toys
From cereal boxes
And milk cartons
And such
And I would
Wile away a lot
Of my idle time
By leaning out
Of our living room
Where I could catch
A glimpse
Of the passing
Street life
Such as it was
In the dreary
Down at the heels
Section of South Brooklyn
That mom and I
Pretended to be home
Truth be told
I was ashamed
Of where we lived
And I would
Under any circumstances
Dare to invite
One of my school chums
Over to see where
I lived
I would have died
From the embarrassment
Of it all
Not that any of
My so-called school chums
Lived much better
Since we all lived
In more or less
The same neighborhood
This was before they invented
Zip codes
(I just knew that anywhere else
Had to be an improvement)
So I would lean
Out the window
And watch and listen
To the sights and sounds
Of the street
As the passerby
Passed us by
Going food shopping
Doing errands
And sometimes
Even fornicating
In the back alleys
In plain sight
During the day
And during the night
I wasn’t supposed
To pay attention
To such things
Good little Jewish boy
That I was supposed to be
But I did
I listened
And I saw
And I suppose
It was all
A form of education
Of a sort

And on different
I would hear
The shoemaker
Fighting with his wife
The shoemaker
Was an older Italian man
With the greyest skin
And stubble on his face
He spoke in mixed
English and Italian
Mostly he just drank
And cursed
And fought with
His wife
Whom he kept
Locked up
In his shoe shop
Or so it seemed
To me
I hardly ever saw her
Outside the shoe shop
Or anywhere else
For that matter
And when I did get
To have a good look
At her
I was surprised to see
That she was a colored lady
(We whites would say colored
In the those day when we
Spoke about black people.
Of course today
We would say
African American
Unless the nomenclature
Is changed all over again)
But once again
I digress

The one time that
I did get to see
A good look at
The shoemaker’s wife
She was screaming
After her husband
Had beaten her severely
And tossed her out
Into the street
I felt so sorry for her
But I could not find
Any words to say
She was so thin and frail
And she held her right arm
As if it were broken
And I could see
That it hurt her a lot
And that she was
Crying and in a great
Deal of pain
The police arrived
And the gathered crowd
Began to tell
The cops the story
The shoe maker
Said that he was sorry
That it was a hot day
And that he had
Too much to drink
He said that he
Didn’t mean to hurt
His wife
And that she could
Come back
Into the shoe shop
And they would make up
And be together again
And that things
Would all go back
To being normal

The cops just shook their heads
And said it was a damned shame
To see a man
Mistreating a woman
So badly
And the crowd
All nodded in agreement
Then the cops
Told the crowd
To break it up
That there
Was nothing to see
They told the crowd
To go home
And that’s what they did
The cops said
It was a domestic argument
Just a disagreement between
The shoe maker and his wife
And that what had happened
Between them
Was nobody else’s business
Then an ambulance came
And the medics took
The shoe maker’s wife
To the hospital
But I could see
That she was
Still crying
And feeling
A lot of pain
But the shoe maker
Didn’t go to the hospital
With her
He just stayed behind
And opened another
Bottle of beer
Then suddenly
The shoe maker
Looked up
And saw me watching him
From the window
“And what are youa
Looking at?” he asked
Spitting his words
In my direction
“Whya don’t youa
Justa fucka off
And minda
Youa owna business?”
I ducked back
In the living room
Flushed with embarrassment
And fear
That I had been caught
Like a fly
In a spider web
But then
I found some courage
And some inspiration
And a suitable retort
Sprang to my lips
Just in time
To save my reputation
And my sense
Of dignity
I leaned back out
Of the window
And I shouted
At the shoe maker below
Yelling at him
As loudly
As I could
“Oh yeah?
Well the same to you mister!
The same to you!”
And I shot
A wad of spit
At him
Just for good measure

I was sorry to see
That my spit missile
Had missed him
(I had a reputation
for being a good shot)
But even though
I had missed
I could still see
That he had gotten
The point
And I kept on watching
As the old man
Spat on the sidewalk
And then slowly
Slinked away
Back into his
Shoe shop

I was still shaking
From the whole
When I flopped down
On the floor
To catch
My breath

On the whole
I was amazed
At myself
That I had found
The nerve
To talk back
To the shoe maker
For beating his wife
And I was real
Surprised at
Just how loud
My eight years old
Voice could be

Philadelphia, Pa 2011

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