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The Red Shoes

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Someone buried red slippers under the floorboards
and the mice nested in them. The floors splintered no matter

how many cans of deck paint we used. And one night
at the Embajada I broke a tooth, and the very next

night three teenagers were shot dead as they sat at
a booth by the window eating mofongo. The neighbor

woman used to sing a funny song from the forties
about a “road” and “clear day,” a fast car and a woman

with a pistol. You could see her back had been broken,
and she dragged her left foot behind her down the

stairs to the mail room. And Junior began smoking
crack after his church on Columbus failed and started

going by his birth name which was  Jesus, until he
fell in love with Irma of the hideous rabbit-fur-and-

white-leather jacket, who stopped the cars by waving
her watery hands, smoothing her moth-bitten hair

from her moon-pale face, the violet lipstick she
always wore, until she wound up drowned in the East

River, and no one would say if it was suicide or
murder. But Junior said there were eels inside her and

began preaching again, doped on the corner. Mr.
Rodriguez fired him, though he didn’t want to, and after

Mr. Rodriguez often looked sweaty and pale as he
labored to move stuff to the basement, which he had once

done with Junior to help him. We painted our rooms
cinnamon, Aegean blue, repainted them eggshell, gris-perle.

We fought, and you tore all my letters and diaries and
sprinkled them out the window where they landed on

the roof of your car, plastered there by a violent
summer storm. It took hours to scrape them off; I wept

and Mr. Rodriguez gave me a small plastic-wrapped
packet of Kleenex and a month later you wound up in St.

Luke’s on lockdown and Junior caught pneumonia,
died that November. He was thirty-eight, though we

had believed him older. They buried him in Calvary
Cemetery in Queens. Once I rode a cab out that way — 

we got lost, so many ticking minutes among the
slender white spikes of the graves. The red slippers — 

they must have been for dancing, thin soled as if with
mouse skin, a powder inside that might have been talc,

rosin, or years of plaster dust, a piece of   broken ribbon,
black at the edges as if   burned off or torn and smeared with

shoe polish. Or the mice had gnawed it. And you
said “The name of the film,” and I said I thought it was a

story older by far, a girl who puts on the shoes and cannot
get them off, who skips down a road, then another and

across the world, until her feet fall off, and her hands
and they make her wooden ones.

Source: Poetry (March 2014)

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This poem originally appeared in the March 2014 issue of Poetry magazine

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The Red Shoes

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