Poetry: “White Shoes” by Perry Oei

White Shoes

How did white shoes become the shoe of seniors, pensioners,
like my father and others of the A.A.R.P.-set,
men in their seventies who wear them with light gray wool slacks
(why waste good pants from their working years), ball cap, and nylon
Members Only jacket, with the epaulets, in earth tones,
gold or beige (would take some effort finding one to buy now,
but they all have it)? Some of them sit in the Chinatown
park square with the pigeons, and the waiters and cooks who pass
their time before their shifts by scratching the silver coating
off lottery tickets like scaling a fish to be steamed
with ginger and scallions. The old men wear therapeutic
white shoes from Rockport or New Balance for their pronation,
flat feet, or bunions, now, but back in 1969
white shoes were the shoes of counter culture, of youth, what’s cool,
of Namath contra the crew cuts and black shoes of Morrall
and Unitas (especially Unitas in high-tops):
Long haired hippies vs hard hat silent majority.
In ’65, they were the shoes of Muhammad Ali,
in white trunks, as he beat on gentle old Floyd Patterson,
in black shoes and black trunks, who Ali called an Uncle Tom,
while Patterson called Ali by his slave name, Cassius Clay.
And in the ’70s, it was the eponymous shoe
of Houston Oiler Billy Johnson, arms raised, knees flapping,
in his end zone dance like a wobbly chicken, as we
all drove around in cars with earth-tone colors, yellow, gold,
like my family’s brown Oldsmobile Toronado with
its beige top, our green Chevy Nova, green Ford Maverick,
colors more suited for living rooms than cruising around.
Black was the color of funeral hearses, limousines,
not like it is today when, as I turn fifty, my wife
tells me not to wear white sneakers with shorts while her teenage
nephew wears black Nikes, black shorts, and black socks. Old is new.
Admitting later to wishful thinking, Stephen Hawking
had once believed the expanding universe might be like
a stretched elastic sheet that must snap back, contract, and when
it does Big Bang reverses and exploding stars implode,
dying stars ignite, the dead shall rise, our mistakes undone,
our successes too, and it would all seem so logical,
natural, for cause to follow effect, for us to die
before we are born and grow younger as the years pass by,
white becomes black and back again, until all of spacetime
collapses and crunches life, universe, and everything
into an event horizon, a singularity,
by the gravitational weight of all its dense matter
and the infinite heat and pressure force yet another
big bang explosion, to start the cycle of creation
and destruction once again, as long foretold in ancient
Sanskrit hymns as the sleeping and waking of the Brahma.

Perry Oei received his B.A., summa cum laude, from the University of San Francisco and his J.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. During the 1980s, he co-founded and co-edited a literary magazine in the San Francisco Bay Area called Ceilidh. His work has appeared in Berkeley Fiction Review, Santa Clara Review, and other publications.

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