Unbutton Here

by Idris Anderson


Among my mother’s bags
of clothes, patches for quilts,
bits and bobs—what she left us:
a jar of buttons

cut from her dresses
worn out or out of fashion,
what she’d sworn never
to wear again, or, dear buttons,
for sentimental reasons.

A cold December. Both wear
wool in the wedding photograph.
He rarely seen in suit and tie.
She in the pink dress with the big buttons,
rhinestones rimmed with black.

Their radiant faces outshine
the sparkle of the buttons.

What I look for in town markets:
Lucca, Athens, Kuala Lumpur,
Covent Garden, Portobello Road.
Old ones: brass, shell, wood,
often military, rarely pearl.

In a village square near Bordeaux,
cards of buttons carved
from bone, dyed wine colors,
earth colors, river water colors.

Baby buttons for tiny clothes.

If we must go out in wind and rain,
stand still, tiny sister, let me button up
your little blue coat. Here, push
this button on your red umbrella.

Buttons of. Mushrooms. Veal.
Tender is the meaning of button.

Bare unaccommodated man
has no use for buttons. Pity the poor
naked thorn-scratched wretch
forty nights in a wilderness. Off, off,
you lendings. Come, unbutton here
that I might feel what he feels.

Blow, wind, and crack your cheeks.

Admire the potter’s precision
as he presses nail-head buttons
of clay around a drum pot
into which will be set a literati pine.

The red raw mark of a noose
about her neck. He can’t breathe
because she can’t. Touching it.

Command to servant
or to self: Undo this button.

My mother in her last dress
of red lace and covered buttons.
No one measured her breath
with looking glass or feather
or any other instrument.

What gesture then?
Of love? Of death?
This knot intrinsicate
of life untie.  Unbutton here.

Idris Anderson’s collection of poems Doubtful Harbor (Ohio UP) was selected by Sherod Santos for the Hollis Summers Prize. Her first collection of poems Mrs. Ramsay's Knee (Utah State UP) was selected by Harold Bloom for the May Swenson Poetry Award. She has won a Pushcart and a Pushcart Special Mention. Her poems have appeared in AGNI, Crab Orchard Review, Hudson Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Prairie Schooner, Paris Review, Plume, Scoundrel Time, Southern Review, and others. She was born and grew up in Charleston, SC, but has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for more than two decades.