Shoes of the Dead











Shoes of the Dead

empty shoes
flat and gray
amassed in monstrous piles
like schools of dead fish
dumped out of nets
missing the life
that gave them meaning
bring me your stories
the one we know
and can’t understand
the ones we don’t know
and would understand
teach me to count six million
teach me to count one

© Elizabeth Steinglass 2018


Yesterday, my daughter and I spent the day at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum bearing witness to the past and worrying about the future. It was a profoundly moving experience. The museum was designed so thoughtfully. I couldn’t help but notice that as we advanced through the museum to the most difficult spaces, the exhibit shifted from documentary and narrative to art and poetry. When we came home I wrote the poem above in response to the shoes. I used the “bring me magic” prompt from Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge‘s book PoemCrazy, which Laura Salas blogged about last Friday and used so effectively in a workshop.

Wishing you all strength as we move forward.

Carol will have the roundup this Friday.



21 replies
  1. Ricky says:

    I love how you ask the lifeless shoes to bare their soles so we can learn… ? thanks for sharing.

  2. lindabaie says:

    I’ve been twice, the most recent with my students and we cried for those shoes, those who had worn them, their stories. Your poem with “dead fish/dumped out of nets” feels both right and heartbreaking. And it feels kin to the children taken from their parents today.

    • Liz Steinglass says:

      Yes, the resonance with today made our visit that much more heartbreaking and worrisome.

  3. cvarsalona says:

    Liz, I have wanted to go to the Holocaust Museum for years and have not done so. Each time, I am visiting my grandbaby in Reston, I never seem to have enough time to do so. My friend was a Holocaust surviver and for years before his death he spoke with schools about the horrors of the period. Being a French Jew, his parents hid him with a family friend where he became an altar boy. His wife still writes and speaks about France during WWII and the atrocities that happened to the Jewish people. Your poem with its graphic lines, “empty shoes/flat and gray/amassed in monstrous piles/like schools of dead fish/dumped out of nets/missing the life/that gave them meaning,” spoke clearly about the disregard for human life. I also liked the Russian poet’s poem using the word scream in different ways to bring home a message of deep sorrow.

  4. haitiruth says:

    So powerful. I especially like the way the last two lines sum things up. Ruth,

  5. carwilc says:

    Lia, this poem is absolutely breathtaking. The comparison of the shoes flat and gray, and fish dumped out of the net. The stories. Those last two lines. Stunning. Heartbreaking. Thank you.

  6. Kay Mcgriff says:

    Wow! Such a powerful poem and images. I’ve been to the Holocaust Museum, but did not have time to take it in. (I was with a school group and we a very short time to walk through.) I’d love to go back to have time to ponder.

  7. Michelle Kogan says:

    Strong poem and post Liz, I knew your were referencing the Holocaust before reading your line, “teach me to count six million.”
    We are too close to the events of that time, thanks for sharing.

Comments are closed.