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  • Writer's pictureVigilance

"Lost Shoes & Broken Hearts" Part Three

Poetry by Catherine Owen

Photography and Afterward by Karen Moe

SHOE #20

Mother & daughter perhaps, equal losers in the game of the womb,

you lie together on the strand, pink rubber by yellow thong,

the younger's still on the cusp of striding away, the older's prostrate,

heels barely grazing each other's abandonment.

What is this hunger for relationship?

Does everything speak to everything else?

I have mostly questions now, as I look at shoe after shoe after shoe,

like heart after heart after heart, busted and dredged up and for what.

Love, my dear, love.

SHOE #21

All this fullness of life and we cram it into an orange grid -

each diverse earth made small and simple

-our minds so afraid of over spill and what we will never understand.

Is there even a shoe left we can walk in?

Just a ghost sole remains, shredded, with its friends only garbage and its road

too well-trodden to waste time on.

We have no excuses left but nonetheless, we find them. It is not our mess;

we were born into this; there is nothing, alas, we can do.

And the grid fills and fills and the ghost shoe stays still.

SHOE #22

Like a dance, the wreckage.

One rubber leg lifts sideways to tap the rubble, its stage.

These things were made to break.

Can you imagine? How human this is!

For we too are fragile, composed of the cheapest, most humble, materials.

And yet this turquoise flip flop will survive us, outlive all flotsam & flesh

to remain on this beach nearly always, bit by bit eroding, yet retaining its form nonetheless. Dancer after dancer passes on and this little pas-de-un endures,

its accompaniment the sussurus of an empty ocean.

SHOE #23

So slender you could be a lady's slipper, an iris, a lily, nothing offensive.

Sometimes we slide into the world as if our garbage were beauty.

Here, the green nearly transcends you, a little slip-on moment against the forever-verdant earth.

The heart is rarely this subtle; it would be vermillion & raging and raked with

tenderness & violence alike.

This shoe seems not to have trod any paths but be innocent in its curled-up paleness, maiden-fresh.

You know I will say it's all illusion and you are right.

But there is another version of this truth.

Darling, you tell me what it is.

SHOE #24

Out of your element, aren't you.

Incongruous against the crystalline light of rocks, the edge of beach.

Striped for sport, you have slipped away from the competition

and now you kick only into the crevasse.

There is always a time in life where you realize no one is cheering from the stands anymore. It's just you and your also felled mate, face down against the resilient green,

the eternal stone.

A thing, but human also, and you are out of the game, a slowly-decaying champ on an anonymous field.

SHOE #25

O solo dark one

you should stop planning

for a lifetime of longing.

That other mate is gone.

It's ok, you might say,

most days, though some still

you wish for that simple pairing

once more, a walk along a lush

beach instead of this lying lonely

by barren rock.

Though of course, it's your choice.

After all, wait!

You could pick up an errant wave.

SHOE #26

You've been walking this world so long, this strand of the leftovers

of other people's lives, those you've nurtured, those denied -

in the end, well, you're still distinguishable from the remnants:

plastic forks, caps, shells, small green plants - and you,

this shoe, bowed, ragged, but truly well worn; it's carried

you to here and now, let go. Not that easy, I know, and don't,

but there's an ocean outside this frame, somewhere beautiful

and blue and easing you beyond what you've lived - sadness in losing,

yes, but happiness too to see how thoroughly this life has been stomped,

and climbed, and soared, and no, you didn't let it go before you gave it all it had.

SHOE #27

Fat declivity in stone,

though where water should be,

only fallout: of tree, earth, rock.

Yet this is the purest landscape here.

And you the newest inhabitant:

A scarcely-worn sandal of innocent blue

and fake cowrie, placed as if a simple

accoutrement in the beach’s living room,

the plastic not chemical and the object

not refuse.

How we delude ourselves.

Each time we buy or we love,

it is as if we are already dead,

and the eternal things

are beyond shame, ephemeral.

SHOE #28

Like all of the left behind, you

Haven’t ended up without

a bite mark.

The sea has eaten into you, time chowed down

On your unreal pink as if it were a meal.

But likely, you were spat out.

How many centuries will it take before

your rubber is nubbles small as sand,

your falsity blending with pebbles,

indistinguishable on the long beach of history?

The triptych of sweet plant,

fake sandal, and the perfect swirl of shell sums it up.

Big garish foot,

O humanity,

is us.


The Afterward is Always-Present.

“Why the shame shoe?” Catherine Owen’s Shoe #3 puns its double entendre of the shame in a parade of an uninterrogated same. Nothing punny about it, even though the mobs of castaway shoes on a Quintana Roo beach nestle into masses of brilliant blips of plastic waste and blast a carnivalesque[1] of colours and shapes.

Shoe #2 poses a question that is also an accusation: “You tromped hard to arrive at this place, didn’t you?” The question is its answer: “Yes.” In the same way, the shoes are simultaneously objects washed up on a beach and harbingers of this particular splotch of evidence for another environmental heartbreak. For another kerplunk of a “Big garish foot” that concludes: “O humanity, is us.” [2]

The poems of Lost Shoes and Broken Hearts are dialectical entities that churn in upon themselves with their already answered questions; each shoe/poem is a dialogue of pointless asking. Shoe #19 questions: Which is it? Doom or evolution? Only to arrive at an existential impasse: “Face downwards in the grit, only your still-new grid showing, washed up before you’ve barely walked./ Shame is wasted energy./ Shame is essential acknowledgement./ So which is it?/ The fact is, it doesn’t matter.”

Both shoe and past wearer are one and the same; the shoe is simultaneously the other and the you where, as Shoe # 3 states, they/we are “never mouth up, but always/ the sole planted sky-wards.” The homophone of shoe ‘sole’ and human ‘soul’ binds and then, again, Shoe #4 reveals “the shoe/ a lattice of rubber/ unglued by kicking,/ its sole a receptacle/ for sand, the game/ relegated to a silent beach,” the poem homonymically glues the heartless human to their jilted commodities as the sole is made of plastic, flesh and, with a dash of revenge, an isolated being stranded on a heartbroken beach. “What is this hunger for relationship?” Shoe #20 answers.

The poems tease us with absurd—albeit heart-wrenching—stories of love. In “Shoe #14: a love (less) note,” the poem writes: “Dearest,/ Where are you (I used to plead). / So useless, all my brown flowers halved/ and the trips we planned to take annulled.” Down the beach, it’s hot and heavy as Shoe #18 exclaims: “O baby, how our plastics match./ So compatible these moments that will never decay./ My blues rub against your blues in the brown-grey bed.” And then, alas, the passion wanes and the couple of Shoe #6 are “yearning for the other's attention, rubber tapping rubber/ as if they are two blind species stranded in the zoo of their hearts”— “Dear heart, you have no more use,” Shoe #11 abandons.

Amidst the garbage, both poem and photo stroke. The aesthetics delight, the love affairs intrigue; we feel for the shoes of children, for the child shoes with Shoe #10’s “criss-cross sorrow that fits the pudgy joy” and Shoe #17 pities its brown sandal thus: “[t]iny participant, you have no choice./ Born into this pit of waste.”

But the poems, the shoes, are tricksters, ruthless as they heartlessly pull at our heartstrings and birth bits of literature as emotive shrapnel aimed at our sealed off selves. As we read, amused by the playfulness, touched by the love-scenes and sorrowed by the abandoned children, accusations are flung back at us—coquettishly of course—with: “You had every accoutrement for a life on the town Princess, didn’t you?” and, when midnight strikes the never-ever-after party, “You are used to discarding them aren’t you, Ms Queen?” Our shoes, our waste, our denial have walked back to haunt us from a liminal ball room that encroaches upon the deadly perfection of a vacation-package beach. We haunt the shoes we once wore; the poems resurrect the lives that once lived in the shoes. Our trash, our careless discards, our unrequited memories talk back. Shoe #10 dooms: “On the way to a future where our ghost feet have left everything behind”; Shoe #12 passes the sentence: you are “[i]ndistinguishable the king and his trash in the end.”

“Are you ashamed, shoe?” Shoe #19 asks itself. Are you ashamed of the realities behind your washed up state? Where do you hail from, really? Most likely a few of you were playfully kicked off and fell from the spectral hulks of cruise ships during all-day cocktail hour alongside your pool-side antics. These cruising monoliths of soullessness haunt tropical horizons like Dickens’ prison ship now disguised as well-deserved liberty, but are really the same “black Hulks lying out a little way from the mud of the shore, like … wicked Noah's ark[s].” [3] Only the chosen pairs, blessed by the coincidence of their births, have the opportunity to frolic. “I have it you don’t,” says this neoliberal world with its sole ethic of profit at all costs.

As a shoe here and there disappears from deck, the cruise ships stealth and flaunt their hyper-consumerism to the periphery, the people who, in “[t]he landscape of hypermodern social exclusion.” [4] are, as Tijuana activist intellectual Sayak Valencia theorizes, the ‘third-worldized.’ On this coast, the people of Honduras, Colombia, Guatemala, Venezuela and Belize are but a part of the majority of our now absolutely globalized world who live in “a dissonant reality where the logic of consumption fuels the hope that one ‘might one day have such luxury, even in the outskirts.’ ” [5]

The bystanders watch the phantasmagoric ships with their cargo of hedonists that are all snug in their “uncritical and [fulfilled] hyper-consumerist social consciousnesses.” [6] The outsiders look into the epicentre of their imposed desire without the economic power to conceal the plastic waste they have been sold; and so it’s dumped straight into the ocean which does—perhaps with an irony of a desperate attempt at justice—keep bobbing up and uglifying their paid-for paradises.

“What’s up with all of the shoes?” we have asked in this Vigilance series of three. Well, dear reader, “the contemporary world structured around the dictatorship of hyperconsumption” [7] is the literal origin of these cast off, flotsam signifiers that refuse to go away. Shoe #21 proclaims: “Is there even a shoe left we can walk in?” With always only one of each pair cast alone on the shore, we can only hope to hop: we are stuck in what we have lost. Just around the corner from the resorts, Shoe #21 impersonates the guests: “We have no excuses left but nonetheless, we can find them. It’s not our mess; we were born into this; there is nothing, alas, we can do.”

In this contemporary carnival, our irreverent garbage turns hierarchy on its head and celebrates refuse as what is refused to be acknowledged. These unrequited shoes, these disconnected selves found on a lonely Quintana Roo beach, dictate the inevitable heartbreak “in a society at once brutally unequal and hyper-individualist.” [8]

“Does everything speak to everything else?” Shoe #20 answers with its question. Yes, again, the poems, the shoes, answer “yes.”

Notes: [1] In Rabelais and His World, Mikhail Bakhtin discusses the Medieval and Renaissance carnivals as ‘carnivalesque’ in that they were a celebratory upending of hierarchy and where laughter was both the physiological and philosophical vehicle of a (temporary) rupture of the status quo. “[L]aughter, which had been eliminated in the Middle Ages from official cult and ideology,” he writes, “made its unofficial but almost legal nest under the shelter of almost every feast. Therefore, every feast in addition to its official, ecclesiastical part had yet another folk carnival part whose organizing principles were laughter and the material bodily lower stratum.” (82) Bakhtin continues: “festive folk laughter … means the defeat of power, of earthly kings, of the earthly upper classes, of all that oppresses and restricts" (92) If not for environmental devastation, these lost shoes as proof of human presence, in the company of the remains of excessive profits gleaned by stupidity and greed, are eternal proof of human hubris that, in a more perfect world, would be merely laughable. [2] Shoe #29. [3] Charles Dickens Great Expectations: 40. [4] Gilles Lipovetsky La Felicidad paradójica. Ensayo sobre la Sociedad hiper-consumista. Barcelona: Angrama, 2007: 182 in Sayak Valencia Gore Capitalism South Pasadena, CA: semiotext(e). Intervention, series 24, 2018. [5] Roberto Saviano Gomorrah: A Personal Journey into the Violent International Empire of Naples’ Organized Crime System. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008: 90 in Sayak Valencia Gore Capitalism: 89. [6] in Sayak Valencia Gore Capitalism South Pasadena, CA: semiotext(e). Intervention, series 24, 2018, 43. [7] Ibid: 76. [8] Lipovetsky La Felicidad paradójica. Ensayo sobre la Sociedad hiper-consumista: 182 in Valencia Gore Capitalism: 77.


"Lost Shoes & Broken Hearts" Parts One and Two:


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 in British Columbia, Canada and in Mexico City.

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