The Iron Shoes

The Iron Shoes





The Iron Shoes

Reviewed by Elana Wolff


The forty-seven poems in this alert, courageous collection are plumbed from the depths of life and recollection where “unquiet spirits,” “black anger,” “the man who…screwed choirboys,” rape in a “mean house on a mean street,” a marriage “long gone,” a “son… assessed / with autistic elements,” and the “shame of the uncontrolled body” are all fair subjects for poetic telling.


The collection takes its title from the poem “Christmas at Nineteen: The Iron Shoes”:


I’d walk the New York pavements

through the dark December days …


drift from store to store

searching for the gifts to prove

the value of my mother’s life…


searching underneath for life and love

like a princess wearing out

her first pair of iron shoes

not knowing there were still six pairs to go.


The iron stands for shackles and challenges; also for strength and will of conviction— to “tell it like it is” in frank, unsparing language:


“…my son’s being assessed again, / and I’m depressed as hell because I’m scared / they’ll say, he has no future, / at least no future anyone would want.” (“This Distance”)


“Home wasn’t safe…” (“Undoing the Box”)


“I still eat like an addict, trying to cram in / pleasures and sustenance before they’re / ruined by a look or a remark.” (“Return of the Nobodies”)


These are poems of pulsing truth with lines that rise to light:


“I lived a lie and / called it normal./ I lived in loneliness / and called it youth.” (“The Golden Bowl”)


“She wants to fly. She can’t. / She needs to find her words / express old angers, find a way to / speak her unlovely truth…” (“Looking Back: the Eight of Birds”)


“I am part of all that is and all that was / and if my words run true, they’ll reach beyond my / death and say to those unborn: freedom, sky, coraggio.” (“Italy”)


Poems of tenderness and wonder:


“I see my friends / Around my fire/ I know: it will burn to love.” (“Stacking Wood”)


“Sometimes life gives you what you want / and not too late.” (“Blue Roof Farm”)


Poems that serve as exemplars for all who seek to heal through writing— into and out of the quick.


Elizabeth Greene

Elizabeth Greene

Elizabeth Greene has retired from the English Department at Queen's University where she helped found Women's Studies. Her work, poetry and prose, have been published in a number of literary journals.