Tuesday, April 13, 2010

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

This poem first appeared in OPEN BOOK - Poetry & Images, published by Steele Roberts Ltd, 2007

For more Tuesday Poems, please visit the new communal site .


  1. Lovely that 'patient all-weather place'.

  2. Claire, a beautifully executed, layered, lengthy metaphor--it is magic from 'the gash in his chest' and every description of handwork is vivid and moving. Astonishing the way poems arrive, how they begin,the paths they travel, and where they naturally end. It's lovely, Claire, and gave me chills.

  3. maggie@at-the-bay.comApril 13, 2010 at 10:25 AM

    Perfect with Anzac Day looming. It reminds me of the poetry of Jo Thorpe - do you know Jo's poetry?

  4. Such thrilling textures; you have to read on or suffocate (or be 'crushed in the fist'). Terrific, Claire.

  5. I love this poem Claire for its depth and layers of ideas and language. It's a poem one can read over and over again and keep discovering surprises. Too many great lines to pick out just one or two or three!

  6. Thanks, Mary, Mim and Vespersparrow, it is indeed astonishing the way poems arrive and take us down unexpected paths. Each time, a different journey.

  7. Magnificent. And such sustained intensity. You cleave to and behind the beating heart of insight, and with lovely lyricism: "insects colliding with candle light", etc.

  8. Maggie, thanks for coming by. I know Jo Thorpe's name but confess I don't think I've read her poems. Len & Other Poems is a collection I'd like to get hold of one day. Library, here I come?!

  9. Thanks ++, Pen & Kay, for using the words 'texture' and 'surprise' in your response(s) to this poem. Coming across this tiny, packed-to-the-hilt cupboard-of-a-shop, it was impossible not to be struck by each of these elements ; )

  10. Hello, Lentenstuffe - I think this might be the first time you've been here? Man thanks for coming and for leaving such a full response to what is (I realize this more after posting it) a rather intense and unconventional poem. I hope you'll visit again! Claire

  11. PS - Oops, I see I left the -y off 'many'...

    Man thanks it is!

  12. oh, wonderful sounds of treason.....
    thank you

  13. Thanks again for this site, Claire...
    I did participate...
    and I'm still listening to the murmuring sounds of treason.

  14. Dear Melissa - lovely that you've linked in with the Tuesday Poem, thank you! I am on my way to your site now (will send Mary an email so that she knows about your poem, too; that way she can post a link to your poem from the new site).

    Murmurs of (t)reason? ; ) Let's keep the '-t' in the long distant past! L, C

  15. There is so much fantastic imagery here -- very sophisticated writing!

    (You wanted to remind you to link to me on Tuesday Poem....) (Thanks!)

  16. What we find beyond the grey when we find the gash and enter in. What a world! Thanks for posting this Claire. I remember the sensations when you first read the poem out loud to me (and others). I'm full of sensation again. pmx