THE TOE OF HER SHOE, by Llewellyn McKernan

The toe of her shoe sprouts duct tape.

She gets to her booth though it takes all day.

Her sharp old face is delicately sprinkled

with tufts of hair and soap-opera wrinkles.

Her false teeth jiggle in a mouthful of gums.

She once had a daughter.

She once had a son.

The speech of her hands is fine as an artist’s.

On one a ring sparkles like a spring in a forest.

Her little blue hat has a row of pearls.

She smiles, she chatters as if a real girl

sits opposite her and listens and nods.

Is the old woman crazy

or is she just odd?

Who’ll pay for this meal and leave a tip?

The old woman chuckles and licks her lips,

oiled by an omelet, a Double Decker with

several secret grease-congealed crusts.

The words of her story fall, one by one.

She once had a daughter.

She once had a son.

The stream of her words, rehearsed, unrehearsed,

flows toward a darkness embraced by this verse.

The name of the game begins with P: Penance

and Prayer and Pain and Peace crack open

the hull of whatever’s evil.

“Just eat the vile thing.

Don’t cavil. Don’t quibble.”

She winks her good eye. The other one is bad.

The love she buried has risen, not glad but leavened

by the best and the worst.

She stands on short legs.

Fuzz clings to her skirt.

Words spring from her lips with the power of a gun.

She once had a daughter.

She once had a son.

She walks with stiff hips, she stumbles a little.

Her life is quite plain, her life is a riddle.

What’s left in her booth is a glass of tea

where the ice becomes what it used to be.

What more to be written on this small sheet?

Life isn’t short.

Life isn’t sweet.

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