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Buttons

July 1, 2012

Brian Miller offered up an intriguing challenge for this week’s Poetics at the dVerse Poet’s Pub: buttons. I thought through several possible takes on buttons–intercom and accordion buttons, buttoned lips, the buttons telemarketers push when they bombard me with unwanted calls during the workday and, even worse, leisure hours. But I kept returning to actual buttons: the flat, round “hardware” crucial to most items of clothing and found in every mother’s sewing box.

My mother is a fiber artist, creating quilts with fabric and thread that are more akin to paintings than bed linens. But when my sister and I were kids, her art was more of a craft as she sewed skirts, dresses, blouses, and other clothes for us as quickly as we tore through them and outgrew them. Buttons were ubiquitous in her sewing room, including jars of old ones that we would take out and sort through when we were very young, just another way to while away a rainy afternoon.

Now that I am older, I wonder about the stories behind the old buttons in my mother’s jars and those stashed in corners of antique shops and junk stores throughout the country. This poem imagines just a few of those stories.

Fastening Memories
She reaches for the Mason jar
to pull the shiny glass
from amid dusty knickknacks
books of others’ adventures
tarnished picture frames

The lid untwists easily
threads smooth from use
She tips the contents
onto a purple pillow
faded, lumpy
gold threads dull with age

Clicking softly
against glass, one another
buttons pour from the squat pint
piling in a sparkling mound
a child would treasure

But she is no child
Wrinkled hands set thick glass
between bone-thin thighs
Fingers cramped by time
extract one, two, three
returning buttons to the jar
a panhandler collecting gemstones
the archeologist archiving history

This chipped button
torn from short, white gloves
that one pearly still
signifying childhood’s end
Green buttons covered by mother
to match bright young eyes
blue ones dyed then spotted
stained from spilled champagne

Flat olive discs
mingle with rounded brass
eagles grasping anchors
holding on for life
just as Fred did
through war’s storm

Pearl-white hearts
bought for baptism day
Perfect brown balls
that fastened first shoes
Knots and swirls, knobs and lace
twisted by nimble fingers
in Thailand and Morocco
collected as souvenirs
but never worn

Black, brown, blue, gray
four holes, two, ribbed, smooth
leftovers from jackets and dresses
shirts, shorts, pants
everyday garments long forgotten
despite evening hours with needle and thread

She carefully refills the jar
tucking memories behind glass
as she does every day
as she will until
memory also is long gone

I reach for the Mason jar
to pull the cloudy glass
from amid dusty knickknacks
books of others’ adventures tales
tarnished picture frames

The lid untwists haltingly
threads rusty without use
I tip the contents
onto a wood counter
scratched, sticky
gold trim dull with age

Clicking softly
against glass, one another
buttons pour from the squat pint
piling in a sparkling mound
I will treasure
without knowing why

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. July 3, 2012 11:21 am

    I really love that you replicated the first 3 stanzas at the end, and then put the buttons/story in your own hand. I liked this transition:
    “in a sparkling mound
    a child would treasure

    But she is no child”
    Wonderful!

    Like

  2. July 2, 2012 3:40 pm

    that’s quite a story, and i like he details like the fact that it was a mason jar, and not just some random jar

    3 radio button senryu

    Like

  3. July 2, 2012 2:33 am

    Very effective use of buttons to reveal histories… the sounds and visuals really bring it off the page. Nicely done, Julie.

    Like

  4. July 1, 2012 9:29 pm

    so many memories and so many stories to tell…love how you take us with her on the journey…

    Like

  5. July 1, 2012 5:27 pm

    Oh this is so lovely, so evocative with the descriptions that draw the reader’s mind and memory back to a time when buttons were special, not factory-made/functional. A beautiful poem!

    Like

  6. July 1, 2012 5:24 pm

    so cool…my mom used to have a mason jar full of buttons…so you had me back there in the living room floor spilling them out and marveling at all of them….they would def take an afternoon away just dreaming with them…

    Like

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