Button by Jane Hirshfield




















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It likes both to enter and to leave,
actions it seems to feel as a kind of hide-and-seek.
It knows nothing of what the cloth believes
of its magus-like powers.

If fastening and unfastening are its nature,
it doesn’t care about its nature.

It likes the caress of two fingers
against its slightly thickened edges.
It likes the scent and heat of the proximate body.
The exhilaration of the washing is its wild pleasure.

Amoralist, sensualist, dependent of cotton thread,
its sleep is curled like a cat to a patch of sun,
calico and round.

Its understanding is the understanding
of honey and jasmine, of letting what happens come.

A button envies no neighboring button,
no snap, no knot, no polyester-braided toggle.
It rests on its red-checked shirt in serene disregard.

It is its own story, completed.

Brevity and longevity mean nothing to a button carved of horn.

Nor do old dreams of passion disturb it,
though once it wandered the ten thousand grasses
with the musk-fragrance caught in its nostrils;
though once it followed—it did, I tell you—that wind for miles.



JANE HIRSHFIELD is the author of four previous collections of poetry. She is the recipient of the Poetry Center Book Award, the Bay Area Book Award, the Commonwealth Club of California's Poetry Medal, and fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller foundations.  Her poetry has appeared in the Best American Poems, The Pushcart Prize Anthology, The Atlantic Monthly, The Nation, The New Yorker, and The New Republic, as well as many literary periodicals.  She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

"Button" is from Jane Hirshfield's GIVEN SUGAR, GIVEN SALT