Ode to Buttoning and Unbuttoning my Shirt by Ross Gay

No one knew or at least
I didn’t know
they knew
what the thin disks
threaded here
on my shirt
might give me
in terms of joy
this is not something to be taken lightly
the gift
of buttoning one’s shirt
slowly
top to bottom
or bottom
to top or sometimes
the buttons
will be on the other
side and
I am a woman
that morning
slipping the glass
through its slot
I tread
differently that day
or some of it
anyway
my conversations
are different
and the car bomb slicing the air
and the people in it
for a quarter mile
and the honeybee’s
legs furred with pollen
mean another
thing to me
than on the other days
which too have
been drizzled in this
simplest of joys
in this world
of spaceships and subatomic
this and that
two maybe three
times a day
some days
I have the distinct pleasure
of slowly untethering
the one side
from the other
which is like unbuckling
a stack of vertebrae
with delicacy
for I must only use
the tips
of my fingers
with which I will
one day close
my mother’s eyes
this is as delicate
as we can be
in this life
practicing
like this
giving the raft of our hands
to the clumsy spider
and blowing soft until she
lifts her damp heft and
crawls off
we practice like this
pushing the seed into the earth
like this first
in the morning
then at night
we practice
sliding the bones home.

Ode to Buttoning and Unbuttoning My Shirt

This poem tickled my fancy as they say, just showed me a different way of looking at buttons and hands and shirts. Ross Gay speaks of the joy of buttoning and unbuttoning his shirt, this gift not something to be taken lightly, though of course, most of us do. How even our shirts are gendered, buttoning left to right or right to left – who ever thought that up?!

He moves in his stream of consciousness way from the car bomb slicing the air / and the people in it, to the honeybee’s / legs furred with pollen. Such disparate images of the world and yet he holds the two ends of destruction and creation, the other days / which too have / been drizzled in this / simplest of joys.

Then he speaks of untethering his buttons from his shirt which is like unbuckling / a stack of vertebrae / with delicacy – such an embodied image. And the tips of his fingers with which I will / one day close / my mother’s eyes. How seldom do we contemplate what tasks our fingers will be called to perform. The delicacy of practicing giving the raft of our hands to a spider or pushing the seed into the earth – more ways we can use these hands.

Perhaps this poem can call us to pay attention to what we are doing with our hands in this moment, at any moment of the day, the openings and closings of our lives.

12 thoughts on “Ode to Buttoning and Unbuttoning my Shirt by Ross Gay

  1. Dear Jan: I have just discovered Ross Gay! I love how you have highlighted the many layers of his language in this wonderful poem. Thank you for brightening my day! xo

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  2. Oh Jan. Thank you once again for sharing this wonderful practice of reflection, insight and awareness via your love of poetry. I feel very fortunate to be a recipient.

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  3. I love this poem Jan. It’s so in the moment and innocent. Like a child when everything is new and there’s joy that’s experienced from exploring and experiencing everything. It’s almost like a microscope being focused on a minute part of now. Thanks for the poetry evening. It’s so nice to get back to sharing such beautiful thoughts. xoxo

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  4. I too feel blessed by your work Jan. I am about to lead a meditation on death for our Unitarian congregation and Ross Gay’s poem will be a deep addition. Your own poetry is always a resource and I often quote, “Life without death is a run on sentence.”

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    • Linda!! how lovely to hear from you and that you are doing your good work. Poetry is always the best resource 🙂 and I’m tickled that you remember my one-liner. Be well and continue to live fully. much love, Jan

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  5. What a lovely meditation, Jan, on this simplest of things and yet any of us with a touch of arthritis knows this is not a task to be taken lightly, this getting a button thru a buttonhole that may be a bit too small for it. I love Gay’s way of rejoicing and pondering with his awareness full on to the car bomb and the people in it, tending his mother’s eventual death, to the strange gendering of buttoning a shirt. He pulls my focus that is so often scattered over the scene of the day down to the immediate and particular.

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  6. I believe one of the reasons I love poetry is because it does just as you say, it “pulls my focus that is so often scattered over the scene of the day down to the immediate and particular.” thanks for putting that into words for me Wendy. love to you Jan

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