Creating connections through the arts and across cultures

“Stepping Out,” a poem by Janet Grace Riehl on shoes, reconciliation, and finding your own path

She walks in beauty, like the night.—Lord Byron
Walking the Beauty Way. –Navajo

I stand in my Mother’s shoes—a few sizes too big for me.
Mother is dead and gone.
She has passed over.

I stand in my sister’s shoes—a few sizes too big for me.
Julia is dead and gone.
She has passed over.

My Mother had her own path, the path of the matriarch.
Her path made more fragrant with flowers,
more buoyant with birds,
more flavorful with banquets,
softer and warmer with comforters and quilts,
more beautiful with painted landscapes.

My sister had her own path—the path of the matriarch.
Mother of family.
Mother of scientific experimentation.
Mother of peace and social justice for women and minorities.
Her work walks on. Walks on the path she trod.
She sees her work still from the other side.

I have my own path. I am Mother of art and culture.
I wear my own shoes. I am stepping out.
Stepping out into a world my words comfort and strengthen.
My shoes are just the right size for me.
My shoes fly with wings on their heels.
I am like Mercury, the messenger god.
I make my own heartfelt additions
to the path of my mother; to the path of my sister.
I walk forward, the path trod by the feet of the past underneath my feet
as I stride into the future.
I own my path, my path of words, forged from lifetimes of listening.
Now, I speak these words, write these words, and they march out into the world.
Brave, head held up high, making a path of their own.

Rose petals line my shoes.
Rose petals warm and anoint my feet, soothe my fears,
and return me to a safe center.
A new place to walk from and work from everyday.

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3 Responses »

  1. Shoes! We live in them, but don't think too much about them, yet there is so much symbolism in walking in another's shoes.

  2. What a beautiful poem. I like how you use the analogy of shoes to represent the different paths your mother and sister and you took.

  3. I love that your shoes and words fit so perfectly! And what better to line your shoes with with than rose petals? Many years ago, searching for a stress relieving mantra, I settled on "rose petals." Thanks for the reminder!

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