Brown Shoes by Michael Brownstein

—after the poem, Watch, by Amy Gerstler

“For some strange reason I had wanted to have [my father’s] shoes, the shoes he was wearing when he died…and was sad to learn they had been incinerated.”—Amy Gerstler, commentary on Watch


They were just a pair of old shoes, untied,

scuffed on the side of the left one

deeply scarred near the front of the right one.

Both heels swelled in the center as if pregnant

and tapered at the end, out of breath.

They lasted a long time, comfortable,

brown shoes in need of polish and care,

their tongues stretched and stubborn, valleys and hills

the plastic tips on the shoelaces still intact,

the holes they went through frayed like stranded hair.


At my father’s death they gave us his watch,

old, too, and comfortable, with a brown leather band.

My father liked brown, a mature color,

the color of old men, he would say.

I wanted his shoes, but they were no longer available.

I put the watch on the wall of my office

and began looking for the pair he might have worn.

They’re everywhere. Every thrift shop. Every Salvation Army.

On the feet of every man over seventy.

One day I will gather up all of my nerve

and stop one of these old men.

I’ll ask him where he purchased his brown shoes.

I’ll tell him the color goes well with him…

And maybe I’ll buy myself a pair just because.

Michael Brownstein
Michael Brownstein

Michael H. Brownstein’s work has appeared in The Café Review, American Letters and Commentary, Skidrow Penthouse, Xavier Review, Hotel Amerika, Free Lunch, Meridian Anthology of Contemporary Poetry, The Pacific Review, Poetrysuperhighway.com, and many other places. His nine poetry chapbooks include A Period of Trees (Snark Press, 2004), What Stone Is (Fractal Edge Press, 2005), I Was a Teacher Once (Ten Page Press, 2011), Firestorm: A Rendering of Torah (Camel Saloon Press, 2012), The Possibility of Sky and Hell: From My Suicide Book (White Knuckle Press, 2013) and most recently, The Katy Trail, Mid-Missouri, 100 Degrees Outside and Other Poems (Kind of Hurricane Press, 2013).