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.
Listen to 'Buttons'