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by Judy Kronenfeld

In the shoemaker’s shop
the chairs are empty.
It’s calm as a verandah
in summer, breathing out
into a corner of quiet air
near the high-rise mall
a concentrated perfume
of oil and dark polish.
From the recesses of the back
he comes, bringing my doctored shoes.
I am breathing the scent of stores
like gift packages, remembering nickels to spend,
remembering striped straws
from which I sucked violet
or pale green powders,
sugar daddies I worked
to a sharp point, wax bottles
filled with bright syrups
we shook into our throats.
The shoemaker smiles in apology,
sends me for change to the barber,
whose head lifts
at the tinkle of the bell,
and I am thinking steamed towels
waiting to soften beards,
the loose slap-slap
of lotioned hands
on slack jowls, even
the dreaminess of those long lulls,
the barber tipped back in his chair,
newspaper over his face
rising gently, and falling,
the shoemaker, legs propped,
examining his blackened fingers,
the rain stopped,
the air damp and balmy,
my father, arms slack on his aproned belly
what did I know? how could I know?
starting to smile as I approached.

Originally published in MSS 6, No. 3 (1989)

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: This photo shows my dad inside the luncheonette. In his face, I see his intrinsic kindness, and also a little bit of melancholy.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: After years working as a cutter (of cloth) in a doll factory, and then, as the foreman of another doll factory, my father managed to buy a tiny “luncheonette,” also called a “candy store,” on Broadway and 27th Street in Manhattan, which he ran for some years. But my parents’ style of life still seemed working class. Usually, but not always with my mom, he rose at four a.m., six days a week, got ready, and drove from our three-room apartment in the Bronx to lower Manhattan, in order to stock the store and open it for the breakfast crowd (other petit bourgeois shopkeepers, factory workers, students at the Fashion Institute of Technology, etc.) wanting coffee and danish. Mom and Dad did all the arduous cleaning by themselves before closing or opening. Although I loved them very much, as a college student on half scholarship far away, half supported by their labor, I wasn’t necessarily appreciative enough of how hard their lives were, even though they were indeed working “for themselves,” and how few their luxuries. In the immigrant culture of my childhood, most parents worked hard so their children could do better. But the realities were in my heart, and my understanding deepened with my greater maturity, leaving me with a special sympathy for the lives of “owners” of such small, often “mom and pop” shops that provide some of the commodities or services we consider necessities, yet who work such long, hard hours, make no great profits, and have to worry whether they will be driven under.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Judy Kronenfeld is the author of four books of poetry and two chapbooks. Her most recent full-length collections are Bird Flying through the Banquet (FutureCycle, 2017) and Shimmer (WordTech, 2012). Her fifth full-length collection, Groaning and Singing, will be published by FutureCycle Press in early 2022. Her poems have appeared in Cimarron Review, Connotation Press, New Ohio Review, Natural Bridge, One (Jacar Press), Rattle, Valparaiso Poetry Review, and other journals, and in over two dozen anthologies. She is Lecturer Emerita, Creative Writing Department, University of California, Riverside, and an Associate Editor of Poemeleon. Visit her at