Indian Rug, Red Shoes

Face lit by the fire’s glow,
back freezing from the draught
coming under the study door,
sitting on the Indian felt rug
arms huddled round cold legs,
am I four, or five? Dreaming
of red shoes, not yet having read
Andersen’s ugly story, not knowing
that wanting red shoes is wanton.

Was I happy then, in my
innocent dream of pretty things?
When I didn’t know that red
means scarlet woman forced to wear
red velvet to her wedding, means
bloody rags to burn each month,
means nails dripping with
another woman’s blood scratched from
her big red lips and lying eyes;

or that red shoes are worse than torment,
worse than red hot pokers,
more dangerous to wear than
Little Red Riding Hood’s cloak
because they give you away
to any wolf that’s watching.

Was I happy then, in my
simple dream of pretty things?
Wasn’t I already, at four, or five,
staring out of a dirty window
at the rain streaming down
on a winter garden, grey
the colour of day, of life, of self?