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My Shoes Are Killing Me

by Robyn Sarah

The title of Robyn Sarah’s My Shoes Are Killing Me speaks to the nostalgia that her poems explore: if “nostalgia” literally means “painful homecoming,” then the “shoes” – read as a metonymy for the past of her life’s journey – cause at times painful reflection on the rest of the voyage. In the opening poem we read, “Time is evaporating like a tide-pool, / leaving its stranded flotsam, a cipher / scribbled across the sand.” Most of the anecdotal, reflective, free verse lyrics of My Shoes Are Killing Me are attempts to decipher this “flotsam … scribbled across the sand.” These are poems recollecting emotion in the (in)tranquility of boomer twilight.

My Shoes Are Killing Me (Robyn Sarah) coverThe interest in the past directs attention to the “Poignancy of the discarded,” as Sarah writes in “Castoffs,” a poem that catalogues various items in “the trash heap in spring.” Such artifacts are transformed in these poems into a material archive, akin to what may be found in “A Box of Old Family Photos.” The poem notes such photos are “Precious beyond accounting / in this salvage,” but also observes, “The past is hazardous / as well as treasure house.”

At times, the frame widens to include the broader public spaces of Sarah’s Montreal, then extends this frame further to the global scale: “Students are back in the city. One hears them / singing rowdily in bars, it drifts across the dark. / The Russians have taken over an airfield in Georgia.” The nostalgia encompasses memories of the Jewish diaspora alongside the motto of the poet’s province: “a past continuous, a past as presence. / Je me souviens. / A motto you can make your own.”

Sarah’s poems find significance in “the chafe / of the quotidian,” although a less-generous reading might replace “quotidian” with “banal.” In “Vestigial” she ruminates at length on the obsolescence of the penny, but the poet’s concern here is ultimately with language: considering aphorisms such as “Penny wise, pound foolish,” the speaker asks, “Will the proverbs endure when the pennies are gone?” We might ask similar questions about the anecdotal lyric, a form itself so familiar yet also facing obsolescence. –