"Lost Shoes & Broken Hearts" Part One
Updated: Sep 3
Poems by Catherine Owen
Photography and Preface by Karen Moe
A few years ago, when travelling in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, I went off the well-beaten path and found, perhaps ironically, devastation. The state that is lined by the shimmering turquoise of the Mayan Riviera with its tourism mecca of Cancun, Quintana Roo offers all-inclusive beach-front perfection, wrapped up in an even more alluring Mexican-priced package on what can be more realistically defined as: the path of impeccable delusion.
North American tourists go to Mexican resorts to enjoy the luxury of doing nothing. And, this luxury is made even more luxurious by cashing in on their good fortune of being on the winning side of an always struggling peso. Mexicans smilingly slave in the background, while tourists lounge about in their well-deserved vacation package inertia, oblivious to the fact that long before their transition from king-sized bed to pool-front lounger, reality is being covered up or, rather, a whole lot of something is being raked and hauled away.
But what happens if you stray from the holiday boulevard of bliss and diddly squat? Not being one for resort towns or cruise ships or any type of escapism for that matter, I naturally did just that. As always, I passed on the empty-headed luxury that is my birth-right as a middle-class member of the First World and went around the corner, climbed over a rocky out crop that serves as a wall between solipsism and collective doom and discovered this is what the Mayan Riviera really looks like. I witnessed Paradise Lost:
Next time you’re in Cancun, if you get up early enough, you’ll see rows of Mexican workers, as a phantasmagoric phalanx, combing the famous white sand beaches with rakes and scooping up the unsightly truth into garbage bags, keeping up appearances by clandestinely concealing the fact that the privilege to do nothing is but a chimera that floats upon the daily removal of ocean garbage, or the ocean garbage that manages to make it ashore. The plastics. The stuff that just won’t go away. The stuff that will just keep rising to the surface as a collection of our folly. But what’s up with all of the shoes?
Nestled between squashed water bottles and atop nests of colourful caps, criss-crossed by masses of plastic forks that are kept company by spoons and the occasional sand-stuffed straw, frayed toothbrushes, and (yes, hate to break it to you) plastic tampon applicators, the occasional weary mound of a disposable diaper, and all those shards of plastic that will only break down as far as impervious particles that are now a part of the food chain, are shoes. Flip flops, casuals, stilettos, sneakers and, sometimes, even the sighting of the rarefied innocence of the forsaken shoe of a child. Shoes no longer paired up, shoes that have lost their way, perfect fits for metaphor all as representatives of piles upon piles of broken hearts. Some well-deserved. Others never so. And far too many long overdue.
When I brought these shoes back to Canada, Catherine Owen and I collaborated on this series of photographs and poems, Lost Shoes & Broken Hearts. This is the first installation of three to be featured in Vigilance: Fierce Feminisms, the magazine that is always on the look-out for the reality to be found when one goes off the beaten path.
O little fragments
of a rock's wild heart.
And then the plastic rot
at the core.
We live on; we live
There is nothing for it.
One shoe after another
is lost and ends up
the stranded blue
of a stupid human
In a lifetime,
how many trips to the store, how
many to the ocean.
Now they all combine.
The sea-mall is full of Bics & jugs & teensy
You tromped hard to arrive at this place,
Where your cowhide fuses with Oral-B
toothbrushes and all that salt ends up
turning them to the sweet toxic
mirror of memory.
why the shame, shoe?
never mouth up, but always
the sole planted sky-wards
amid the midden of colourful flotsam
you once longed for.
what to do with desire as it ends?
you spoon; you delicious beverage bottle;
you fragment of a game we once played together.
now there is no food or drink or fun
only a mish-mash of the past
staring at nothing.
Baked in the heat
the ball is now stone
or shell and the shoe
a lattice of rubber
unglued by kicking,
its sole a receptacle
for sand, the game
relegated to a silent beach,
the teams composed of plastic caps, dried
seaweed and the score still
zero for the earth.
Yes, the flowers, the panoply!
All of it faux.
More plastic in the ocean than fish now
and on the bottom of your shoe
fake flowers embed themselves,
crushed flat as insects and fragrance-less.
Yes, the applicators, the detritus!
and filters and needles and the flotsam
of us who once said we loved
and then filled up the dumpsters with bouquets.
This is all there is.
Two lost soles washed up on a tawdry beach, one of them
yearning for the other's attention, rubber tapping rubber
as if they are two blind species stranded in the zoo of their hearts.
Forget marriage, a life together.
Mainly, there's what came before you strewn everywhere.
And yes, a few green plants poking up through the rubble
of milk bottles, condoms, cast-off utensils.
There is always the dumb hope.
This - the worst thing of all.
I can barely see you anymore.
How you blend into all the bric-a-brac of waste,
all the dreck that was a life.
Once, we went dancing and I thought, that's it,
the impeccable rhythms of love, yes.
Now, I know it was only the instant's desire and you,
such a show-off of moves, little more.
Well who can regret the heart's hunger to return
to that place where this snazzy snakeskin pump
wasn't only a cast-away lump of stuff but
a hope for something better, that transcendent
moment in your arms when we whirled on the floor
to some song I no longer recall.
I've given up on fairy tales
you see and so I barely
remember this lost shoe.
The tide has tossed it up as just one
memory among many: when you lit that candle,
when you drank that milk, when you ate that salad,
when you played with that toy, when you brushed your teeth.
The shoe was never Cinderella's anyway, but just
mine, and those Prince Charmings you saw me dancing with
were only men who couldn't love me as I am, which is what:
an adorer of detritus, a spinner of art, an afficionado of flesh
aging into the future when even my bones will become
indistinguishable from this trash, washed up on another beach
not far from here. this, my only sign of sanity,
to have given up on stories of forever, and the one.
You weren't even discarded here.
Only the trace of your passing.
The rays and arches that defined your pressure.
A track hatched in the grains beside tangibles.
One shape that says - I lived, I walked, perhaps I loved.
No one can know now.
There is just this brief unredeeming walk towards some end.
And you held.
About the Artists:
Catherine Owen is the author of 15 collections of poetry and prose. Her latest books are Riven (ECW, 2020) and Locations of Grief: an emotional geography, 24 memoirs on loss and place from Wolsak & Wynn, due out later this year. Raised in Vancouver BC, she lives in Edmonton, AB, Canada.
Karen Moe is a writer, visual and performance artist and a feminist activist. She has been published in such magazines as Border Crossings, ArtSpace, WhiteHot and Revista 192. She is the editor and founder of the magazine Vigilance: Fierce Feminisms. Karen has exhibited and performed across Canada, in the US and in Mexico and has just finished her first book, Victim: a Manifesto. Karen lives and works in British Columbia, Canada and Mexico City.