On my way home from school
with a gang of friends
I would see him outside
one of the bars or diners
near the Journal Square station:
my uncle, rasping the price
of a shine to the passing crowd,
if he wasn’t already on his knees
rubbing color into the grain
of some suit’s scuffed wingtips,
reaching around the stiff back
of the heel with his stained fingers
to massage the polish deep
into the threads of the seam.
One day, when I thought he’d
caught me turning my head
to pass by without a word,
my cheeks burned, while the guy
he worked on lit up a smoke
and blew rings over my uncle —
still kneeling as he snapped
a torn strip of felt,
buffing and slapping that shine
until it was so bright
you could see your face in it.