Thursday, August 25, 2011

Polishing shoes and other tasks

Yesterday was one of those days between projects when it was hard to focus on any one thing. Definitely a “hummingbird brain” day. So I took to reading poetry, thinking that might help me to settle down.

And I found one of my favorites:

Those Winter Sundays

Robert Hayden

Sundays too my father got up early

and put on his clothes in the blueblack cold,

then with cracked hands that ached

from labor in the weekday weather made

banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.

When the rooms were warm, he’d call,

and slowly I would rise and dress,

fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,

who had driven out the cold

and polished my good shoes as well.

What did I know, what did I know

of love’s austere and lonely offices?

There is much that I love about this poem, but one thing especially struck me yesterday—the heartbreaking detail of the father, alone, polishing his son’s shoes on Sunday morning.

It made me wonder about other fictional characters who reveal themselves by taking care in doing the simplest of acts.

And the other side of finding fictional characters-- inventing. Seems like it would be an interesting exercise for those times when nothing seems to be there: write about a character doing a simple, humble act, but an act that reveals heart and motive, something like washing dishes, changing the oil in the car, re-glazing a window, combing the tangles out of a child’s hair, or the young man in Liza Ketchum’s story who bakes bread.


  1. Isn't it wonderful? "love's austere and lonely offices" has just been bouncing around in my head all day.

  2. How beautiful, Jackie! This poem punches the gut. This line is particularly palpable: "And no one ever thanked him." That line says so much about a father's tirelessness and his child's empathy. Thank you for sharing!

  3. I love winter, and reading about it, even in August, makes me look forward to the snow. Winter, to me, feels like a reset. Time to go inside. Become more introspective. imagine the possibilities of the coming of another year. It's not unlike the space between projects. New pursuits surely lie on the horizon, but for now it's time to explore the inside and see what comes of it.

  4. Such a beautiful poem, Jackie, and such a thoughtful exercise. Thank you!