By Fred D'Aguiar Fred D'Aguiar
The shoemaker’s wife ran preschool   
With a fist made not so much of iron   
But wire bristles on a wooden brush.   

She made us recite and learn by rote.   
Our trick was to mouth words, sound   
As if we knew what we would one day   

Come to know, what would dawn   
On us as sure as a centipede knows   
What to do with its myriad legs.   

She made us settle our feet on the mud   
Floor of her daub and wattle hut and she   
Wielded a cane cut from wood that bit   

Into the palm of the hand and left a burn   
That resonated up the arm for an age   
After its smart swing and crisp contact.   

Worst of all was the shoe cupboard   
Where the old man stored his wire   
Brushes: a cold, dark, narrow place,   

Replete with brushes hung on nails   
Covering every square inch and said   
To come alive when a child was locked   

In with them so that they scrubbed   
Flesh off that child’s bones. She said   
We would end up there if we did not   

Concentrate, so we stilled our feet   
And spoke the words in the right order   
For colors in a rainbow until the very

Thing took her place in front of us   
Arranged in cuneiform, polished,   
Brandishing a window to climb out.

Source: Poetry (December 2008).


This poem originally appeared in the December 2008 issue of Poetry magazine

December 2008


Fred D'Aguiar is a poet, novelist, playwright, born in London of Guyanese parents and raised in Guyana. He teaches in the MFA and African Studies programs at Virginia Tech. His sixth poetry collection is Continental Shelf (2011).

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Poems by Fred D'Aguiar

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SUBJECT Living, Youth, Activities, School & Learning

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