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Poetry Friday

In this brilliant and profound poem, the speaker is a shoemaker who sees the world through the feet that he crafts shoes for. He follows human life by means of the array of specific experiences that feet lead us through. In the catalog of feet’s particular adventures, each line beginning initially with “Feet of…,” then beginning with the “I” watching feet’s adventures, I hear echoes of Whitman’s “Song of Myself.” There’s also a Whitmanesque expansiveness in the poem’s wide-ranging and compassionate vision: from the “Feet of mother and son, slain on a street half-walked” to “Feet exhaling the vastness of earth in thin rain” to “the land you left unwalked.” I’m struck, too, that poet Asnia Asim chose to set this poem in the Iraqi city of Fallujah, which has suffered more than its share of violent deaths — first during the U.S. occupation of Iraq, then during its 2014 capture by ISIS. I suspect this explains the many images of violence in the poem, including that slain mother and son, the “run toward evil,” “the burning land.”

—Peggy Rosenthal

“Shoemaker in Fallujah,” by Asnia Asim

You feet! I resign myself to you—I know what you
I behold in my hands your soft heel, your crooked toes
I shape like couplets a cow’s hide, I make it understand
       the length of your walk, the refrain of your adventures,
       the places you will see

I put bows on the pink shoes with small heels for someone’s
daughter, to match her soft dress on Eid
I sear holes for laces to hold snug a soldier’s step in the parade

Feet of countless men and women resting at night
       dreaming of wet grass, of an ancient city’s path
Feet exhaling the vastness of earth in thin rain,
       sighing wanderlust—I can help you

Feet of mother and son, slain on a street half-walked,
       I took your shoes
Feet of rebels, soldiers, beggars, dancing girls, the last
       fisherman of Euphrates
I am the one collecting the scent you left in your shoes

I watch the corpse cleaner wash you with muddy water
I know every detail, the chipped nail polish, henna on
       broken nails, I even watch when you are missing,
       lying somewhere in the shrine of unclaimed limbs

I am not the poet of your adventures only, but that lazy
       summer, you playing football in the valley,
       the land you left unwalked, I am the historian
       of all that too

I have watched you run toward evil, I have watched you drag
       yourself back with shame reformed by it too
My hands are not concerned with finding faults in your path
I leaven leather for what is still a promise

Did you leave the burning land and hail a boat of holes?
Did you jump into the cold sea and float up like a solitary
       boot on someone else’s shore?

I find in fire a comfort of burning, of feeling my skin peel
I find in water a refuge of silence until my lungs disband

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