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American Life in Poetry: ‘Marge’s Shoes’ by Sylvia Ross

By American Life In Poetry Ted Kooser, U.S. poet laureate, 2004-06

Sylvia Ross is from California’s Chukchansi people, and this poem, from the anthology “Red Indian Road West” (Scarlet Tanager Books), is as moving a description about the lasting warmth of hand-me-downs as I have ever seen. Her most recent book is a novel, “Ilsa Rohe: Parsing Vengeance,” published under the name Stephenson Ross and available from Bentley Avenue Books.

Marge’s Shoes

The first few years she wore them

I didn’t even notice the leather’s soft tan,

and the buckskin laces roughly looped.

By the time I paid attention, her feet

had already curved the shoes inward,

weather had toughened the soft leather,

and one lace had broken short.

Then I asked where she got those shoes

and she said from the Indian store

down in Mountain View.

Some other time, another year, I asked

the name of the Indian store

that sold handmade shoes like hers,

but she said it went out of business

and no store sold mocs with vodka

splatters and Yosemite dirt ground in

with a little tamale pie, so I couldn’t

buy shoes like hers anyway.

Last summer, laughing and crying

together, in the campground

at Lake Mendocino, on the night

before her youngest son’s wedding

while the men drank beer and talked

of politics and sports,

I told her how much I really, really liked

those old shoes of hers. So

she took them off and gave them to me.

Those beat-up, raggedy Kaibab moccasins

I wear are stained and worn rough

by hard years in my friend’s life.

I wear them when I need her courage.

Poem copyright 2013 by Sylvia Ross, “Red Indian Road West: Native American Poetry from California” (Scarlet Tanager Press, 2016), and reprinted by permission of the author and publisher. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

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