White Buttons

By Mary Ruefle b. 1952 Mary Ruefle
Having been blown away
by a book
I am in the gutter
at the end of the street
in little pieces
like the alphabet
(mother do not worry
letters are not flesh
though there’s meaning in them
but not when they are mean
my letters to you were mean
I found them after you died
and read them and tore them up
and fed them to the wind
thank you for intruding
I love you now leave)
Also at the end of the street
there is a magnolia tree
the white kind
that tatters
after it blooms
so the tree winds up
in the street
Our naked shivering bodies
must be at some distance
missing us    come back
come back they cry
come home
put down that book
whenever you read
you drift away on a raft
you like your parrot
more than you like me
and stuff like that
(dear father
you always were a bore
but I loved you more
than interesting things
and in your honor
I’ve felt the same about myself
and everyone I’ve ever met)
I like to read in tree houses
whenever I can    which is seldom
and sometimes never
The book that blew me away
held all the problems
of the world
and those of being alive
under my nose
but I felt far away from them
at the same time
reading is like that
(I am sorry I did not
go to your funeral
but like you said
on the phone
an insect cannot crawl
to China)
Here at the end of the street
the insects go on living
under the dome
of the pacific sky
If Mary and Joseph
had walked the sixty miles
to Bethlehem vertically
they would have found
themselves floating
in the outer pitch of space
it would have been cold
no inns
a long night
in the dark endless
and when they began to cry
the whole world would think
something had just been born
I like to read into things
as I am continually borne forward
in time by the winds like the snow
(dear sister
you were perfect in every way
like a baby
please tell brother
the only reason
we never spoke
was out of our great love
for each other
which made a big wind
that blew us apart)
I think I am coming back
I feel shoulders
where a parrot could land
though a tree would be
as good a place as any
You cannot teach a tree to talk
Trees can say    it is spring
but not    though bright sunlight
can also be very sad
have you noticed?

Source: Poetry (September 2011).

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This poem originally appeared in the September 2011 issue of Poetry magazine

September 2011
 Mary  Ruefle

Biography

Though poet and essayist Mary Ruefle was born outside Pittsburgh, she spent her youth moving around the United States and Europe with her military family.

She has written numerous books of poetry, including Indeed I Was Pleased with the World (2007) and The Adamant (1989), which won the Iowa Poetry Prize. A Little White Shadow (2006), her book of erasures—found texts in which all but a few words have been erased from the . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Death, Relationships, Family & Ancestors

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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