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The Cycle of the Old Woman in the Shoe

Updated on November 3, 2011
Lonely flowers against the windowsill, a metaphor
Lonely flowers against the windowsill, a metaphor

The Cycle of the Old Woman in the Shoe

"There was an old woman who lived in a shoe

She had so many children she didn’t know what do to

So she gave them some broth without any bread

And she whipped them all soundly and sent them to bed"

The first baby came when she was fifteen

Old enough to indulge in passions and power plays

But too young to be as terrified as she should have been

And after only eighteen months of up-all-night


And feeding

And growing

And screaming

The next baby came along

Seventeen with two kids and no high school diploma

Food on the table with the help of food stamps

But she never wanted to be a welfare mom

Fake ID, push-up bra, false self confidence

She worked the pole and the booth and got off of welfare

But she wasn’t really proud

She was just surviving

Three years later

Toddlers clinging on

Another on the way

Work dried up

Desperation creeping in

Helplessness settled over her

And she simply gave up

Settled into an apartment with this guy and that

Too many screaming children usually drove them away

Resentments piled upon resentments

Thirty years old

Eight children clamoring to be fed

The youngest has leaky diapers because the good ones cost too much

One needs braces, another wore straight through his shoes on that skateboard again

And the woman doesn’t know what to do

Thirty years old

And she feels ancient

So when her daughter comes home

Fifteen and pregnant and not nearly as scared as she should be

The woman loses all control

Grabs her by the hair and shakes her silly

Drags her into the dimly lit bathroom

That nine people should never try to share

Grabs a hairbrush that has seen more than its share

Of lice and dandruff and disease

And beats the baby out of her

Just like having children beat her own life away

About the Poem

This poem comes from a series of poems that I have written. Throughout most of the series, I take the words of an original well-known nursery rhyme and sprinkle them throughout the page, adding on my own words to alter the meaning of the nursery rhyme. In this case, however, I felt like the words of the original nursery rhyme stood on their own to reflect exactly the image that I had in mind for the rest of the poem so I excerpted the quote from the original piece at the start of the poem.

This series of poems is all about the children that I used to work with when I spent several years doing social service work. I worked with children in the foster care system as well as in a group home setting. I also worked at Child Protective Services. In that setting, I didn’t just work with the children but also worked closely with the parents in the system and got to really see first hand how the cycle of abuse and neglect perpetuates itself from generation to generation. That’s what this poem is about.

I was unsure about sharing this poem in such a public setting. The imagery of much of this series is stark and ugly but it’s not always as raw and overt as this one. The truth is, though, that the situation of child abuse is very, very ugly and there’s no good way to sugarcoat that so I decided to go ahead and share this.

I will say, however, that the original formatting of the poem on the page had to be altered and I think that it has slightly affected the delivery of the poem in a negative way. The original has various spacing and changes in line alignment that I couldn’t make work in the constraints of the Hub format. Nevertheless, I hope the intention of the poem comes through.


Submit a Comment

  • icciev profile image


    6 years ago from Kuwait

    very interesting poem, thanks for sharing and voted up.

  • graceomalley profile image


    6 years ago

    I also find nursey rhymes all too painfully real about the troubles of life.

  • azamkhan18 profile image


    6 years ago

    Hi, Kathryn My name is khan i recently visited your hubs very nice writing i am also try to write some story but i cant write with fluency can you tell me how to write best story or article waiting for your reply.


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