American Life in Poetry: Column 596
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE
Sylvia Ross is from California's Chukchansi people, and this poem, from the anthology Red Indian Road West (Scarlet Tanager Books), is as moving a description about the lasting warmth of hand-me-downs as I have ever seen. Her most recent book is a novel, Ilsa Rohe: Parsing Vengeance, published under the name Stephenson Ross and available from Bentley Avenue Books.
The first few years she wore them
I didn't even notice the leather's soft tan,
and the buckskin laces roughly looped.
By the time I paid attention, her feet
had already curved the shoes inward,
weather had toughened the soft leather,
and one lace had broken short.
Then I asked where she got those shoes
and she said from the Indian store
down in Mountain View.
Some other time, another year, I asked
the name of the Indian store
that sold handmade shoes like hers,
but she said it went out of business
and no store sold mocs with vodka
splatters and Yosemite dirt ground in
with a little tamale pie, so I couldn't
buy shoes like hers anyway.
Last summer, laughing and crying
together, in the campground
at Lake Mendocino, on the night
before her youngest son's wedding
while the men drank beer and talked
of politics and sports,
I told her how much I really, really liked
those old shoes of hers. So
she took them off and gave them to me.
Those beat-up, raggedy Kaibab moccasins
I wear are stained and worn rough
by hard years in my friend's life.
I wear them when I need her courage.
We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2013 by Sylvia Ross, “Marge's Shoes,” from Red Indian Road West: Native American Poetry from California, (Scarlet Tanager Press, 2016). Poem reprinted by permission of Sylvia Ross and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2019 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.