Two Women Dispensing Paper Shoes
At the Summer Palace
of Catherine the Great
The light glinting through high windows finds them
Set like stones, incorruptible and gray.
In the golden house of the matriarch,
The responsibility for order
Could not have fallen on stronger shoulders.
Yet today, rich, raucous Americans,
Skip-skating through lapis antechambers,
Do not disturb them. Nor the German-thick
Halls shrill with conspiracy. Sons-in-law
Inform their suffering. Daughters, their pity.
Their oboe voices explode in wild octaves.
A Japanese stares in tiny feet. The custodians
Throw him a pair of paper shoes, size 12,
And resume in knife-edged country Russian.
They tick off the old sins like Party hacks
At a show trial—infidelities, beatings, bone-hard
Insolence, the muck of sloth. And it will go on
Like this till evening, there is so much to tell.
Misha. Sasha. From name to blacker name,
Their loathing swells. But suddenly, without fair
Warning, the pinkest child has found one
Of their thumbs.
J PATRICK LEWIS'S poems have appeared in The Gettysburg Review, The New England Review, Kansas Quarterly, Seneca Review, Light and many others. He has also published over fifty children's picture and poetry books with Knopf, Dial, Atheneum, Harcourt, Little, Brown, National Geographic, Creative Editions, Chronicle and others.