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Poetry and Medicine
September 6, 2006

The Conchologist and the Shoemaker

Author Affiliations

Poetry and Medicine Section Editor: Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor. Poems may be submitted to

JAMA. 2006;296(9):1039. doi:10.1001/jama.296.9.1039

The blind professor's no stranger to seeing
the terrain rocky, his boots wearing thin—
what needs repair he says, the tear hidden
in the sole below my arch, skin splittng
where my feet have swelled with age, the right close
around my ankle, the fit less good, the smell
somehow off, more of sweat than leather. Tell
me—might the odor come from coast sea moss?
The shoemaker strokes his chin and looks him
in the eye that glisters, says I’ll stretch them
half a size and smooth the saddle—the smell?
the shells you study, sir, their sea-salt film.
The blind professor rubs his fingers on
the boot's hide, traces seams and cuts, searches
for clues, says look, this torn selvage reaches
inside like sea-worn specimens of Conus
litteratus. The shoemaker slides his thumb
over instep sweat-polished warm, feels the last,
sees scratches don't penetrate the surface.
Wax will seal the skin, he says, amber cream.
But the color, asks the blind professor,
will it change? I love the deep tone, I see
it's faded some. I want the glow of sea,
no yellowing no darkening, no premature
unraveling, the stitches strong as gut
for climbing over algae-slicked rocks
at low tide where I look for mollusks—
The shoemaker leans closer, grins This cut
of boot, grooved on the sole, grips sand.
The blind professor rubs his palms together,
laughs I need my boots in every weather—
so much I’ve yet to see with these hands.

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