‘The Red Shoes’ by Joanne Key

The Red Shoes (for Karen)

Dead on my feet, I watched those shoes
flounce through the churchyard, dance
on your grave, all vamp and platform.
Flashes of red infected the corner of my eye
as they tiptoed over my face. As I tried to sleep,
I heard them clacking away the early hours
like drunks stumbling on the cobbled streets.
With nobody left to stand in their way, they shone
with the light they stole from your eyes.
Now that’s vanity, Karen. That’s pride. And poor,
lifeless ghost-you, wooden feet clomping
in time with mine, haunting the supermarket
looking for polish, every night in the bar
asking strangers for a light, sorrowful face
reflected back at me in the optics – hair knotted
into laces. I cried every time I saw those shoes,
free as larks, their nimble high kicks
splitting the air like knives.

I courted those shoes and they grew used to me,
I drew them closer until they felt they knew me,
and as soon as I could, I inched my feet in
and took off, waltzing them through farmyard
and outhouse, past the kicked-in doors
to run the gauntlet of boots and bruises,
through the sting of fists and blisters,
back to the cottage with the bloodstained floors.
You should’ve seen me go, Karen, through fields
full of old crows and cows, on and on, ignoring
all the doe-eyed lowing, dancing through barbed wire
and bull shit. Damn fool shoes didn’t know the half of it.
Oh I danced them, Karen. Over lambs tangled
in afterbirth, across the skins and rotting bodies
back to the abattoir where those shoes stopped
dead in their tracks like two startled hares.
I pushed them hard, forced them on, right into the hands
of the slaughter man who danced them into a corner,
heels scuffing against the white wall, their red ribbons
unravelling into silent tongues that now follow them everywhere.

Joanne Key lives in Cheshire where she writes poetry and short fiction. Her poems have appeared in various places, online and in print. She won 2nd prize in the 2014 National Poetry Competition.