As I bent over to shine
yet one more customer's shoes,
my back returned to aching,
my mind returned to wan'dring.

And like he stood beside me
was the face of Johnny Brown
smiling, laughing, and kidding,
patiently showing the knack.

He showed me how it was done
the right polish, the best stroke.
We talked about whatever.
I enjoyed his company.

At day's end his wife, Alice,
would stick her head in the door,
asking with a smile, "ready?"
and they would leave arm in arm.

Then a recollection snapped
like a wet twisted towel
and shattered the good mem'ry
leaving pieces on the floor.

I remembered coming in
and Johnny wasn't around
and the story unfolded
with all its blue overtones.

Johnny won't be coming in.
He had caught Alice cheating
and cut her with a razor
guts hanging out through the slice.

She was in the hospital.
He was in the county jail.
I was lost in a stupor.
And we never met again.

Zapping me back from that time
the man said "don't brush so hard."
I said "sorry" and slowed down,
and felt again that aching.

Harry W. Yeatts Jr.