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ISSUE:  Winter 2001

I don’t know why the fabulous griffin—lifting
its huge eagle beak and wings, its long lion tail
and clearly unshod right front paw—ever became
part of the name and logo of this shoeshine kit

but there it is, in golden profile on the label:
Griffin Shinemaster, a squat honey-oak casket
my father would bring from his bedroom closet
on those rare dress-up occasions that required

his shoes to look as sharp as his suit and hat,
a heavy style all creases and cuffs and edges.
He’d let me unlace his wingtips, their perforation
a swirling code my fingertips couldn’t crack,

then he’d snap open the brass lock, lift the lid,
and spread his tools across an unfolded Times:
the worn-out undershirt for prefatory cleaning;
the little brush for daubing polish from the tin

and scrubbing it gently into the scuffed uppers,
the toe, the vamp, the dented tongue, the heel;
the old toothbrush for carefully blacking the soles;
the big flat brush for converting that dull primer

into a shine, a sheen, one polish-flecked hand
inside the shoe turning it while the other buffed;
and finally, half of mom’s maroon woolen scarf
for reviving, with slick friction, the lapsed dazzle

from each shoe as he slipped it on and fitted
its slick leather sole onto the wooden footprint
screwed to the kit’s lid at a thirty-degree angle,
blurred hands and cloth converting the Florsheims

to greater-than-original glory, a transfigured state.
The last time he used this kit was for mom’s funeral.
The last time he wore those wingtips was at his own.
The first time I opened the Shinemaster afterwards,

that new-shoe smell was all his, piercing as cedar.
I don’t know why the flightless hunched-over kiwi
ever came to be the mascot of a brand of polish,
but I do know how to take this leftover cordovan

and make a pair of tired dress shoes really gleam,
my feet flashing in the sun as they stride between
the quick and the dead, winged heel to wingtip,
my father’s shining step still mastering the air.


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