They are really my socks. They do not fit inside of any shoes or boots I own, so, technically, they might not qualify as socks, but as slippers. On cold winter mornings, I wear them around the house. What makes them interesting? I am glad you asked.
These were Christmas gifts. Kathy’s grandmother made them for us. We always knew after the first person opened their gift from Grandma what we were each receiving that year. That part never changed. What made each year’s gift deserving of an ode, was the time and generosity sewn, crafted, or knitted into the gifts. We also wanted to know what package our gift came in that year.
Grandma was a thrifty, frugal woman, not cheap. She lived and raised children in cabins almost her entire adult life. Their isolated homestead was on the McLeod River south and west of Edson, Alberta. She worked a trap line into her 80′s with the help of children and grandchildren. She worked hard and had little in terms of material wealth, but she gave gifts made by hand and given from the heart. Part of her thrift was the packaging of each gift. I think, after several years, it became part of a game, too. She packed gifts in macaroni, spaghetti, and cereal boxes. Even the adults thrived on this part of the gift-giving. What was our gift packed in that year?
When I share Pablo Neruda’s Ode to My Socks with students, I tell this story. Children and adolescents need the figurative message made concrete. This poem is about moving life’s supposedly ordinary events to the extraordinary. Students often recount a gift given or received from the heart after my story. It moves the context of daily life forward from the ordinary, and makes it rich. Beauty is twice beauty, after all.
Ode to My Socks
Mara Mori brought me
a pair of socks
which she knitted herself
with her sheepherder’s hands,
two socks as soft as rabbits.
I slipped my feet into them
as if they were two cases
knitted with threads of twilight and goatskin,
my feet were two fish made of wool,
two long sharks
sea blue, shot through
by one golden thread,
two immense blackbirds,
my feet were honored in this way
by these heavenly socks.
They were so handsome for the first time
my feet seemed to me unacceptable
like two decrepit firemen,
firemen unworthy of that woven fire,
of those glowing socks.
Nevertheless, I resisted the sharp temptation
to save them somewhere as schoolboys
as learned men collect
I resisted the mad impulse to put them
in a golden cage and each day give them
birdseed and pieces of pink melon.
Like explorers in the jungle
who hand over the very rare green deer
to the spit and eat it with remorse,
I stretched out my feet and pulled on
the magnificent socks and then my shoes.
The moral of my ode is this:
beauty is twice beauty
and what is good is doubly good
when it is a matter of two socks
made of wool in winter.