Shoeless by Cynthia Le Monds

I am shoeless—

all summer long,

till the planter will pay Momma

enough wages to buy shoes

for all of us—for school.

I have nightmares

of the first day of school—

stepping onto the bus

without shoes,

kids eyeing me as if I am—

heartless,

homeless,

shameless.

But I am just shoeless,

none of those other things.

In town, kids toss their shoes

onto powerlines.

Momma says, They’re dope dealers.

My older sister Nell whispers,

It’s just a game rich kids play

when someone pops a cherry.

Why would they do that? I ask,

and Nell laughs. She is shoeless too—

and sometimes,

heartless,

and shameless.

Momma says homeless

is just a rainy day away.

I am shoeless when

I work the fields,

picking strawberries

or chopping cotton.

Thick dirt gets caked

beneath my toenails.

I need to be careful when

I sling my hoe, else I might

cut off Nell’s big toe.

She works the row beside me,

but at sunset, we will go for a

long walk, and she will tell me

things I am too young to know,

like what it means to pop a cherry.

I like these walks, but

it is not a good thing to be

shoeless on asphalt in this heat.

The scorching sun loosens the gravel,

which pricks the heels of my feet.

They burn almost as much

as the raw palms of my hands,

almost as much as

the sunburn on my neck.

Because I am gloveless

and hatless too.