Remembering Luck

May 22, 2020

Today’s poem is "Remembering Luck" by Douglas “Woody” Woodsum. He’s taught at two universities and five public schools and published poetry in dozens of literary magazines and journals. With his students, he has published twelve annual anthologies of oral history, folklore, and creative writing.

He writes: “'Remembering Luck' was written years ago, after a relationship ended. The boots in the poem are now forty years old and still waterproof. But I felt like an old boot in need of tending when I wrote the poem, so the boots are metaphors as well.”

Remembering Luck
by Douglas "Woody" Woodsum
Clown: A tanner will last you nine year . . . his hide is so tann’d with his trade that [he] will keep out water a great while, and your water is a sore decayer of your whoreson dead body. –Hamlet, V.i.68-72

I am oiling my boots today. It has been
a couple years at least since I last oiled
them, and I have been lucky: no leaks, no
major cracks, no tears. I have oiled them most
every year, and they have lasted over
twenty years. I use my hands –my fingers—
to work the oil in. It looks like yellowed
bacon fat too long in the pan. It smells
clean and oily both. 
                                    I think of the Clown’s
tanner in Hamlet every time I oil
my boots. I think the Clown’s right; if I oiled
boots for a living my hands would last nine
years in the grave. I smile both at the Clown
and at the pleasure of rewarding work,
simple work. 
                         I dream of being a clown
as Shakespeare defines one, a simple man
with a spade digging graves for a living . . . 
or a baker, or a mower of lawns.

I wiped my boots with a cloth to clean them,
but my hands are the tools that work the oil
into the leather, the dead cow hide nine
years dead, plus nine more years, plus two, plus more.

I have neglected many other simple
tasks; don’t get me wrong. There are little things
I let slip, and suddenly something breaks.
I have suffered the car, the house, the wrath
of a wronged lover. I have failed to oil
what needed to be oiled. But today . . . no.
Today I am oiling my boots. 
                                                 The snow
fell during the night and today it rained.
My boots were fine as I walked in the slush,
but I remembered that I was lucky
today. I remembered it had been two
years, at least, and I should not expect more.

The water beaded up and fell away
after I stepped in a puddle. There was no need 
to let the boots dry. I merely wiped them
clean with the cloth. Now I feel the bit of grit
the rag left behind under my fingers
working the oil into the smooth leather,
into the stitches of the seams, into
the cracks that are like cracks in my own skin.
I am old; my skin is cracked, but it’s whole.

I like to set the boots by the open-faced
wood burning stove when I am done. They’ll dry
anywhere, and they’re not really drying,
but I like the light on the oiled leather.

I am oiling my boots by the woodstove
today, and the heat and the smell of oil
makes all seem beyond decay. I am lucky.
It has been two years since I last oiled my boots,
two years at least. My fingers slide over
the dead skin coming alive again, cracked
and a little bit gritty and shining.
Even when I am done, I pick them up again. 

Poem copyright ©2010 Douglas Woodsum. Reprinted from The Lawns of Lobstermen, Moon Pie Press, 2010, by permission of Douglas Woodsum.