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J A N U A R Y   1 9 9 8

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by Mary Karr

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Mother kneels at her closet of dancing shoes
to see which ones I fit -- sherbet-green
taffeta and crimson crocodile, pumps

in Easter pink, plus a dozen black heels
with bows or aglisten with rhinestones,
all wicked run down. Likewise,

she's gnarled as a tree root, her spine's
warped her shorter than me, over whom
she once towered with red hair

brushed back into flame points.
Seeing her handle those scarred leather hides, I quote
the maenads' sad lament from The Bacchae.

After they've chased down
the fleeing god, fucked him dead, sucked
all flesh from his bones, dawn spills light

on their blood-sticky mouths,
and it's like every party you ever stayed
too late at. In chorus they sing and grieve:

"Will they come to me ever again,
the long, long dances?"
And Mother holding a black-patent ankle strap

like a shackle on a spike heel
it must've been teetering hell to wear glances
sidewise from her cloudy hazel eyes and says, "No,

praise God and menopause, they won't."

Mary Karr is the author of The Liar's Club(1995), a memoir. Her third collection of poems, Viper Rum, will be published this spring.

Copyright © 1997 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; January 1998; Beauty and the Shoe Sluts; Volume 281, No. 1; page 59.

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