Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tuesday Poem - BUTTON SHOP

Via Cappellari, Rome

There is no front door; the way in is through
a gash in the old man's chest. Behind his ribcage
centuries-old buttons regulate the beating
of his heart. His chambers are bordered
by pleated velvet, the arch of his aorta embellished
with medallions carved in ivory and horn.

His ventricles are red-ruched satin, stitched
by hand, reinforced with the bleached baleens
of whales. You have only to press your ears
to the walls of his chest to overhear murmurs
of treason, bear witness to acts of love
and betrayal in the eighteenth-century court

of Versailles. His floating rib transmits
the sound of insects colliding with candle light,
street lamps and crystal chandeliers. Stand close
to detect the whirr of industry - in his blood vessels
the heat and light of theatre sets
and behind-the-scenes machinery.

He is centuries old. His superior vena cava echoes
with the metal of wartime trenches
empty cartridges, abandoned ammunition belts
and lost belt buckles: there, too, the crack
and split of a sailing ship crushed
in the fist of a storm.

There is no front door;
the way in is through the gash
in the old man's chest. His body
is an apology of dull grey scaffolding
but his heart? His heart remains
a patient, all-weather place.

CB 2007

For more Tuesday Poems, please click on the quill. This week's editor is Alicia Ponder with the poem Shetland Ponies, Haast Beach by fellow TP poet, Tim Jones

Today's Button Shop is a re-post. This poem was originally published in 2007 in my first collection, Open Book - Poetry & Images. In my last post, I mentioned I'd be away from home for a few days - first for an exhibition opening and then for a retreat on magnificent Banks Peninsula. Our small country has been brought to a virtual standstill after days of (for us) heavy snowfalls. Much of both islands is under a blanket of white - very beautiful, if somewhat disruptive! I was lucky enough to make it over the hills and back to Christchurch before the AA closed the roads. And now that I'm here, I'm fortunate to be able to stay with dear friends in their warm home. We are off into the snow now (going to the gallery space ; )). . . I'll post a few pics of the temple and Christchurch's white environs later today. . . Meantime, this is where I/we were this time last year. . . 


  1. Oh, Claire, I've never forgotten a syllable of this gorgeous poem. I think this may have been the still point around which we first began to speak that has lead to our lifelong conversation. Stunning.

    So glad you are safe and sound in a warm place with friends during this snowy weather. It's beautiful and so glad you wrote. xo

  2. Claire, this is stunning! Rich with alliteration and original imagery....

    It's a great exercise in perspective to imagine your snowy landscape while enjoying balmy summer here in the Pacific Northwest of North America, where our centrifugal force veers in the opposite direction to yours.

    Here's a toast to staying warm, no skidding on icy roads, and a sure path out of winter to spring.


  3. Glad you haven't been snowbound, Claire--or at least, no more than the rest of us here! And I enjoyed the magic realism of the Button Shop when I read it in "Open Book" --great to catch up with it again now.

  4. Having met you more recently than the original post date of this poem, I am close to giddy that you've shared it again. The textures are there at our fingertips, the snippets of sound just perceptible. In the ordinary, I am a fool for fabric and buttons; in the poetic, I am completely absorbed in this man, this place. Wonderful. xo

  5. Dear Melissa - bless you, and yes, I believe you're right about this poem marking that new beginning. A lifelong conversation indeed. xo

  6. Dear T - my thanks are way late, which seems to be the way with many things these days. You, my dear, have a soaring imagination - I can't see you having any difficulty riding the current (or centrifugal force - sounds more exciting!) from snow to heat and all climates between.

    I am ready for Spring, I must admit - in both the inner and outer realities. Not long now till your N. Hemisphere Winter arrives, too. Saying this, the seasons come and go so rapidly these days and in some ways we're living all of them at once, don't we? And, of course, they inhabit us. . . xo

  7. Hi Helen - it was so great to see you and Andrew in Chch last week. Thanks for being so on board with things and for your comments here re; Button Shop. Heavens, hasn't a lot happened since the launch of Open Book in 2007?

  8. Janis, thank you - and Rachel, too.

  9. Marylinn, I love your capacity to viscerally enter place and character - and your ability to shape them anew. Your beautifully rendered insights pop up around the blogosphere like buoys or stepping stones, Marylinn - and so much more besides. Thank you. xo

  10. This is one any poet can relate to as the muse inspires us to burst forth with words inspired by gorgeous beauty of all kinds.