“Help Me Put on Those Black Boats,” She Says, – by Grey Held

i.e., her ugly orthotics custom made.
These beleaguered feet,
once anatomical masterpieces
traveling in fashionable
stilettos, barely trudging now.
Can’t stand on her own.
Little body of tremors
and missteps come home to roost.

Toes are awkward,
untrainable cousins to our fingery agility.
After nearly a century
of being corseted
by leather, her toes
have restructured their calcium,
their catacombs
of marrow. Her son kneels, coddles her left foot,

five independent digits now
one compressed flock
of flesh. He tenders his empathy
to purple-veined ankles,
sad arches,
nail beds beveled down.

Help me put on those black boats, she’d said.
Black boats evoke Charon,
ferrying the souls of the recently
deceased to the afterlife.
Her feet are cold
from the heart’s reduced acoustics.
He Velcroes the left strap.
He Velcroes the right.

Grey HeldGrey Held is a recipient of an NEA Fellowship in Creative Writing and the winner of the 2019 Future Cycle Poetry Book Prize. Three books of his poetry have been published: Two-Star General (BrickRoad Poetry Press, 2012), Spilled Milk (WordPress, 2013), and WORKaDAY (FutureCycle Press, 2019). He offers a weekly online poetry workshop (Poetry Round Table) for professional poets. He is also a literary activist, who through civic involvement connects contemporary poets with wider audiences. Grey Held 658 Watertown St. Newtonville, MA 02460 greyheldpoetry@gmail.com 617-584-0648