Buster Browns

Hated, hated, hated my Buster Brown shoes.
Thick heeled, horseshoe-toed and the color of a Hershey Bar.
Buster Browns on my first day of kindergarten,
for church, birthday parties, field trips, funerals, school pictures,
anytime I wore my brown, clip-on tie and brown corduroys.

I wore my Buster Browns stuffed with pages
of the Milwaukee Journal for a year.
“You’ll grow into them,” my parsimonious mother said.
“Stop complaining. Good shoes are expensive these days.”
A soupy coating of brown Kiwi Shoe Polish
every Saturday night kept my Buster Browns
looking like they did when in the Boy’s Shoe Department at Gimbels.
And did I mention that my father put taps on the heels?

After forty years, the house that put its loving, wooden arms
around a family of six, succumbed to ruin and decay.
Down the fifteen rachitic stairs to the wrecked basement,
dusty cobwebs hung in eerie strands, somber furniture relics,
naked, dismembered dolls with matted hair,
my rusted Radio Flyer, abandoned bikes
and outdated, mildewed clothes in boxes scattered here and there.

On the chipped, buckled tiles
behind the water-damaged encyclopedias,
between the forgotten wringer washer
that nearly crushed my right arm when I was six
and the hulking boiler that banged and hissed
during wintry, Milwaukee nights,
mangled, withered, laceless but still whole,
my size-eight Buster Brown shoes.