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From Room of Thieves, Salt Publishing, 2013

First published in Smiths Knoll 45


A scree of buttons in a striped chocolate-box
sits on the side by a bundled work shirt.

Through the wall, on the kitchen TV, 
news, a woman this time: the footage rolls.

At the blast the buttons start like a flock 
from their age-soft box and stick to the air

to be counted and loved one last time:
silver anchor, blue kitten head, ladybird.

All at once an army of ghosts 
has ripped open coats, cardigans, frocks

and sent a shrapnel of fastenings hurtling 
to wedge in the fabric of five to ten this morning.

Military brass, fake gold, leather,
a stray belt-buckle from a favourite dress

are stitched like a poor substitute for stars
to a swollen backdrop of combustion.

Right now this could be any city that has ever been
done up for war. The buttons, medals:

the toggle, the mother-of-pearl, the shank,
to honour the brave, the young, the late,

the waiting, the happened-to-be-there; the air
is the used-up air of a conscription office.

In the last flicker of the instant – there – 
bright in the blaze of the kitchen door,

a factory-made shirt button, white, small,
perfectly round, uniform.


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