American Life in Poetry: Column 716


Tod Marshall, Washington's State Poet for 2016-2018, with the help of that state's humanities and arts programs, put together a fine anthology of Washington poetry, WA129: Poets of Washington, and here's just one of many poems I liked. Sally Green lives on Waldron Island. Her first collection of poems is Full Immersion from Expedition Press. Showing someone how to do something is, I think, a fine and noble part of living.


for Cora
Though she lives in a world of Velcro, snaps
and zippers, I'm showing my granddaughter how
to sew on a button. She's nine, same age I was
watching my mother pick my favorite one, shaped
like a flower a child might draw, color of sunshine.
Her homemaker hands held everything together,
needle and red thread lickety-splitting up, over,
down, up again attaching the blossom to grass-
green cloth: Colors no bee could pass by. Now, before
the last tug of thread through the button
my granddaughter brought me, I point out the pinch
of space—width of a scissor-blade—between it
and the fabric, a shaft of stitches with a half-dozen
twists of thread around it before tying off. Shank,
I tell her, same as Mother named it. It strengthens
the bond between button and garment, less
friction than ready-mades, fasteners that loosen
too soon. Like love, my mother said. Close, but not too
close. A snip of thread and my granddaughter's ready
to go, fluorescent-pink button back on the nose
of her dog-faced school bag, the shank fixing us
together in this world my mother could trust
only so long as everything was done right, only
when she didn't forget to check I was buttoned up
proper, buttoned up tight.

We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2017 by Sally Green, "Shank," from WA129: Poets of Washington, (Sage Hill Press, 2017). Poem reprinted by permission of Sally Green and the publisher.   Introduction copyright © 2020 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.