Guest Poem by Elizabeth Barton

Elizabeth Barton read English at Cambridge University, after which she worked as a teacher. Her poems have appeared in magazines including Agenda, Mslexia, Orbis, South, The Frogmore Papers and The High Window. She is Stanza Rep for Mole Valley Poets and leads Ecopoetry workshops. Her debut pamphlet, If Grief were a Bird, was published in 2022 by Agenda Editions. This poem is from Acumen 107.

Polishing his Shoes

My father visits me from deep
in the cupboard of my memory.
He sits in the kitchen, Sunday’s papers

spread out on the floor before him.
There’s a waft of turpentine as he pops
the lid off the tin, dips bristles in wax

and I hear the reassuring sweep
of his horsehair brush on leather.
It’s a ritual, ingrained as Sunday Mass,

drilled into him since army days
in the barracks of Kettering,
where he learnt to spit-shine boots

until he glimpsed his face in them.
His outsized feet are his secret agony,
his Oxford shoes, his penance –

nailed, stitched, pinching bunions,
blistering soles and yet he treats them
with the loving attention he gave us.

Some wounds are beyond repair
but he lingers on scuffed edges,
damaged heels, shows me how to hide

the scars of a lifetime’s buffeting
with a little paste and a rag, torn
from his old check shirt to burnish.