12 October 1960
after Henry Reed
"Today you will learn the shining of shoes,"
the Chief Petty Officer says, holding a tin
of black polish above his head. With calloused
thumb, he flicks the hasp, twists the top free.
In the United Nations, Nikita
Khrushchev bends to retrieve
his fallen watch and spies
his new shoes on the floor.
"Spit and polish is what this Navy runs
Around his index finger, the Chief winds
a square of flannel. "You sop it up
then slap it on."
Shoes fashioned of sturdy
Soviet leather, removed
because they are tight-fitting.
Slowly, the Chief works the polish
in small circles, round and round
over the heels, the sides
the uppers, the cap of the toe.
Grievances simmering, Khrushchev
stokes his seething rage. Slams
his shoe on the UN desk
over, and over, and over.
"Next comes the brush."
The Chief buffs the shoe
to a soft glow.
Slam! for the U2 spy plane
and its invasion of Soviet air space;
Slam! for the Monroe doctrine
and its economic colonialism;
Slam! for the rejection
of a Soviet disarmament plan.
"And finally, my hearties, you use one
With a flourish and a wink the old salt produces
a black nylon stocking.
"Order! Order! Order!"
the president of the General Assembly shouts
breaking his gavel in the furor.
"Best darned thing in the world
for putting a gleam on your shoes.
Or in a sailor's eye!"
And Nikita Khrushchev's shoe
goes down in history
as a symbol of the Cold War.
The U2 spy mission in May, 1960 was hotly denied by U.S.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower, although its downed pilot
Francis Gary Powers was captured and imprisoned by the
Soviets and his damaged plane put on display at a Moscow
military museum. Powers served just under two years of his
sentence before he was exchanged in February, 1962 for
Soviet spymaster Rudolf Abel.
There are many conflicting stores about Khrushchev's
shoe. The details here are taken from an article by his
granddaughter Nina Khrushcheva, for the New Statesmen in
Reprinted with permission from WREN: memories of navy days/from royal
yacht to quonset hut, © copyright 2010 Rosalee Auger van Stelten.
All book royalties donated to Esquimalt Military Family Resource Centre.