Button down boy

















He’d set off to school that first day

shirt, tie and cloth cap, under it a toothless smile

his duffle coat buttoned to the chin

it was September after all, and mother wouldn’t allow

the autumn chill to bite his nape

no, that wouldn’t do at all


He’d come home one time in the spring

but the shirt, a larger size of course

was gaping this time, some buttons gone

just white thread hanging loose, like his mouth

which spilt words of incomprehensible rage

it wasn’t his fault, he’d just been defending himself


Ten and several more summers since then

he’d grown enough to meet my gaze

and on that day we sat a while, shoulder to shoulder

for a heart to heart, and he smiled (her crooked smile)

as I told him how much I wished his mother

had been the one to button down and polish up today


But we supposed that she’d been watching all along

and I fumbled with that top button once more

then passed him to the woman of his dreams

soon to bear my family name, and all that remained

was to wonder if a harsh winter would come for me

now that someone else could fasten my boy’s buttons


51 responses to “Button down boy

  1. Awww… so hard to see your child has been in a fight. This was so loving, gentle and, I imagine it’s difficult for any mother to let go of their son to another woman too.
    A lovely read.

  2. a couple of tough times here….seeing your kid after a scrap…and knowing you were not there to protect him…then giving him away for another to care for…i think the second one might hurt a bit more….

    • That would be nice too. Perhaps its also because you know i’m a woman so that led you? I thought the references to mother wouldn’t like it, and the boy having her crooked smile, and being grown enough to meet my gaze would imply man to man stuff… hmmm, oh well, make of it whatever you need to.

  3. I knew it was a father about halfway, I think you get your point across nicely–in fact I was just about to say how well you got into the skin of a male character and told the story. I also think the mood is just right, a blend of nostalgia, old grief and both hope and fear for the future.

  4. So poignant and wonderful, Vanessa. I figured from your photo and the reference to an absent mother meant father and son…….anyway, it is tender and heartfelt, and the wondering about the winter waiting now his boy was leaving is pitch-perfect.

  5. I’m another one who could tell it was a father and son right away. Right away in the first stanza, the ‘mother’ is spoken about as a different person so it could not be mother/son. And in another place the mother is spoken ABOUT as well. And in another stanza, the man is talking about the son’s chosen bride as someone who will have the family name, which sounds like a male speaking (as it would be his name). Anyway, long and short of it, I thought the poem worked well and wouldn’t change a thing.

  6. Ahh–I kept thinking sister too, but I think I have some sense that your mother is gone from other poems – I’m sorry if not right – I think it’s a lovely poem whether sister or father; the poignancy of loss and missing, and yet going on all here. It is very hard to blog from other voices – you do it well with meet my gaze. Maybe something in the stanza of him coming home from the fight? Some sense of recognition or remembrance ? I’m not sure it matters as a lovely poem no matter what, but just a thought. k.

    • You are right that she is gone, but this piece is a total work of fiction and in spite of the apparent parallel, it is not based in any way on my own experience. Glad you enjoyed it either way!

  7. I also thought it was a mother and son on first reading Vanessa, but saw what I missed reading it the second time round when I knew.

    Maybe you could change the title to clear that up at the beginning?

    Well written

  8. I was reminded of a piece I read in a paper many years ago of a man bringing up three sons after his wife died. When they were teenagers so too old for hugs, he did sport massage so they had a much needed loving touch without admitting that’s what they missed. The central image of the button tidied as a last loving touch was very evocative.

  9. A very touching story. “he’d grown enough to meet my gaze”: how beautiful. I really like how I was first misled and thought it was the mom talking. Using the voice of the father is certainly more original. Good work.

  10. I love the tenderness and subtlety here. The progression of time that unfolds with our children and ultimately picks them up on some sort of tide and washes them away in space, distance, mindset or something. They’re never quite the same as when they were young and growing up.

  11. A great telling of a father letting go his son, how little the gap seems from first day of school to growing up, and then the day comes when son is to be his own man. The realization, that they have gone on to a different stage of life. A lot of love within without being over-sentimental.

  12. I love the way love and sorrow and blessing is wrapped into this poem button by button, stanza to stanza, and that a father’s consciousness of this feminine task is how he thinks of the letting go. Bravo. I have tears in my eyes while thinking of this loss and my losses, eequally graced.

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