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Loyalties by Roo Borson


I slipped and fell the other day. Oh, the embarrassment. You understand, for a brown girl to have flame on her cheeks, how deep the humiliation is. My body blocking the elevator like a slab of meat. In my mind: get up get up get up girl.

Between the time I fell and lost my glasses to the moment I was laughing awkwardly to cover my discomposure I was already thinking hundreds of worst-case scenarios: doors cutting my torso in half, germs permeating my skin, or heaven forbid some hunky guy to see me like this. So I got up. My wrists, my elbows, my knees burning. Oh, girl, how we’re aging.

When I was around maybe seven I taught myself how to ride a bike. Must’ve met the sidewalk with my face a dozen or so times. Skinned my knees, skinned my palms. Drove into ditches, shallow canals. Looked worms in the eyes. No dog shit though, thank heavens. Every time I skid out of control I thought, dammit, T. you nincompoop, here you go again. I cried, I laughed, tore my hair out of frustration. Then I got up and pedalled again all afternoon, pedalled again with all my heart.

One time I was on my way to the train station, hurrying up the stairs. Then all of a sudden the thing that connects my legs to my brain decided to blitz and there I was kissing pavement once again. Even stubbed my toe. Girl, I shouted to myself inside my head, pick your fat ass up right now. Oh, how clumsily I live and love through life. I stood, disheveled hair and clothes, clutching my dignity to my chest, and walked unsteadily towards my next destination. I breathe a sigh of relief that no one seemed to notice. I grinned all the way home. It wasn’t until about three stops later that someone tapped me on the shoulder and told me I ripped my seams. Everyone was looking at my underpants. Oh yes, T., do you remember. Good thing we were wearing the good panties.

Was it a Sunday, I can no longer pinpoint in the many Sundays something like this has happened. I was standing in the kitchen, swaying to the music. Then my head hits the counter, bruise forming on my forehead. This is the last time I will let you do this to me, I said, on my knees. Then I calmly went to my room, packed my shit, and left that house forever.

There are times I think I lost myself for good. Then a voice: get up get up get up girl.

Roo Borson

Old shoes,
where are you taking me now?
You who’ve spent a night in the Pacific
farther out than I dared to go—
and I found you again, bedraggled in the morning,
separated from each other by fifty feet of beach,
salt in all your seams, and sand, and seaweed.
That time I thought you were lost for good.
Old shoes, the first my grown feet accepted
without the deep ache that comes
of trying on what others have meant for me. Don’t worry,
it’s me they’re laughing at, those who find us unfashionable.
Our last day upright on the earth
we’ll fit each other still.
Don’t let them trick you into sorrow.
If they stow you in a box that’s too small
in the depths of some unfamiliar closet, remember
the walks we took, the close
companionship of shoes and feet.
Remember the long
mouthwatering days, each place
we rested, just taking it in. We took it in
for a reason, for the time when they’ll stow us away
where there is nothing to see, to do, to feel.
And when you’ve relived it all as much as you need,
when you tire of standing still,
remember the imperceptible holes, how they tore and grew,
the socks, pair by pair, those soft
kittens that came between us, playful, how soon
the walking wore them down.

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This poem appeared in Night Walk, Selected Poems by Roo Borson, published by Oxford University Press, 1994. Shared here with profound gratitude.

Read more works by Roo Borson • Find books by this poet • Or view my library 

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