The Compleat Shoe-shiner

(Listen to the poem here)




My craft is not just shining shoes.
Look all around you. See the queues
of people lining up to see
the sky this morning. It was me
gave it a blueshine after dawn—
my signature’s there on the lawn.
I shined the tower, I shined the clock.
I shined the church, I shined the flock.
Now they’ve got haloes round their hair
which pick up broadcasts in the air
and wait behind them when they bow.
The grocer’s wares are finer now
I’ve luminised his fruit and veg.
And see that blackbird on the hedge?
—I gave its beak that brassy tone
and now it sings the saxophone.
If something dull is in your face
like homework or the human race
in its entirety at times,
another Tuesday or bad rhymes,
I’m able to bring out some glitter
from out of all this dross and litter
and for the price of a few beers
I’ll shine the space around your ears
and work my strop until it glistens.
Folk will exclaim, “Oh how he listens!
His auscultation is so intense,
I must, astoundingly, be making sense!”
I’ll shine the pillows where you sleep
so that your dreams will glow like sheep
emerging from a laundromat,
just washed and spun. And after that,
high’ll shine the haitches in your name
so no one will drop them again.
It’s all my breathing rough and thick
that makes the aspiration stick.
Dimwits and dullards I’ve made bright,
churls I’ve made polished and polite.
Give your mats gloss! Resuscitate
your doornails! Do not hesitate.
Just ask me. These things I can buff
as well as all the ordinary stuff:
handbags and alligator tails,
sporrans and reins, belts, martingales,
saddles, with or without a horse,
clogs, moccasins and boots, of course.
But I’ve been looking at your feet
and I don’t want to be a cheat,
so one thing I must tell you, mate,
and say it honest, say it straight,
if I were in your shoes, I dare
say I would buy another pair.

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(This poem is included in my book The Observation Car which is available from

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