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Sunday, May 17, 2015


by Catherine Wald

Across the country, countless workers in the nail salon industry, mainly immigrant women, toil in misery and ill health for meager pay, usually with no overtime, abused by employers who show little or no consideration for their safety and well-being. It is a world of long days and toxic chemicals, where the usual protections of government have failed, at all levels. —NY Times, May 11, 2015; Photo: A pedicure at a salon on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Credit Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times

Time to choose: should I deprive you of your
livelihood or your unborn children?

Do your lungs need air as badly as my toes need to be
decked out in glorious colors that never existed in nature?

Is it frivolous to pay another human being to caress the
arches and balls of my feet in a way no lover ever will?

In your hands, oh modest Korean or Chinese or Thai woman,
shy, unsightly appendages, emboldened, grab the spotlight.

For two dollars apiece, you give me ten hand-crafted
oriental miniatures, perfect and miniscule as gemstones,

sparkling harbingers of summer, delightful butterflies
birthed in a cloud of formaldehyde, ethanol and XX.

Pedicurists, like most winged creatures, enjoy a short
lifespan: but we all know beauty demands sacrifice.

In this world where gainful employment is hard to come by,
where aesthetic pleasure is so desperately needed, is it

time to turn off the tap?

Catherine Wald's books include poetry (Distant, burned-out stars, Finishing Line Press, 2011), nonfiction (The Resilient Writer: Stories of Rejection and Triumph From 23 Top Authors, Persea Books, 2005) and a translation from French of Valery Larbaud’s Childish Things (Sun & Moon Press). Her poems have been published in American Journal of Nursing, Buddhist Poetry Review, Chronogram, Exit 13, Friends Journal, Jewish Literary Journal, The New Poet, Society of Classical Poets, The 5-2 Crime Poetry Weekly and Westchester Review.