I have written poetry and short fiction all my life and published a lot of it. My day job is editor of a trade publication Illinois Racing News. I live on a small horse farm in northern Illinois with my husband and various animals. My latest book, "Ribcage," (from Glass Lyre Press) recently won the 2015 Kithara Book Prize. I also am an associate editor of FutureCycle Press and Kentucky Review.
The podiatrist operates on your big toe
Removing the nail with what looks like
A pliers and then cauterizing the oozing bed
With caustic oil. He says in a week or so
You should be able to walk without
Agony. He tells you walking
Is essential to health. His parents were
Holocaust survivors. The day they walked
Out of the abandoned barracks.
Living skeletons, their feet
Wrapped in rags, what a day that was!
How they walked to the D.P. camps, walked
On ship decks, walked to the immense fortune
Of a son educated
To fix feet like yours. So walk!
Your toe, page of erasure,
A fat white grub. Underneath
It’s all gore like the untold stories
Of the podiatrist’s mother and father.
He has conjured from pictures what they suffered.
Suffering, he contends, must be endured
To heal. You can’t bear
Weight on that foot yet. His eyeglasses
Glitter like frozen ponds
Over which the world must creep
Tentatively, step by cautious step.
Next week, you will walk
Into his surgery to expose
Tenderness. An unshelled
Toe. He’s compelled to expunge
The carapaces his parents cowered under,
Tongues stuck to hard palates,
Roofs iced over,
Footprints bloodying the snow.
Science of the foot. Mechanics
Of walking. How a person is saved,
A lowly procession of ingrown nails, bunions,
Plantar warts and fallen arches.
No foot, no horse, he says.
They walked from the boxcars
To be judged. The lame, the toddlers
Shunted to the ovens. His parents
Walked, they slaved in the quarries
Hauling baskets of stones. He’s seen
The documentaries. His parents:
Their faces drawn and tight like
People whose feet hurt.
This good son soaks in remembrance,
Unbandaging your foot,
Which has improved. The profession he chose:
Foot doctor, seems vaguely comic.
Five little piggies crammed
In pointed spikes
The way they were jammed
In the ghettos or hiding
In an annex above the factory they owned
Before declared personas non grata,
People sewn with yellow stars.
He owns this history. Every patient
Whose foot he holds in accomplished hands
Will recollect it with
Every perfected stride.
We trundle in all of the clothes
we can fit on our bodies.
It is not winter yet. An old man
wears dozens of flannel robes.
Mud underfoot and the soldiers
shouting, cannon being dragged
by straining bodies. All the horses
were slaughtered months ago. Hunger
travels this road. If anyone knows
where we are headed, he keeps
his mouth sewed with black thread. Huts smoke in the distance,
crows caw from the rusted
belfreys of pine. Their cries like
shabby black elbows. Night
suddenly. A pox of stars
and small fires splaying a cruel orange
slap print on exhausted faces. There were dogs once
and sometimes snared hares, now
we gnaw our own fingers,
hug sleep to us like gristle.
They say a blood moon
means a change of fortune. Our bloody footprints
will bloom in snow like miraculous flowers. Nobody talks
of calendars or the old occupations.
Families forget the names they were born with.
All the roads
cram with this progress.
Eyes and mouths hauling a sack of wants. Old women tell
of fig trees, cool water, sheep on a mountainside.
They bless themselves. The gravel of their legends
haunts some of us. Others plant
one foot after another.
Another Chicago Magazine
© 2017 Joan Colby
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