Apr. 28, 2001

A Basket of Buttons

by Sue Owen

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Poem: "A Basket of Buttons," by Sue Owen, from The Book of Winter (Ohio State University Press, 1989).

Lost eyes, whose sight
will not be restored.
What was there to see, anyway?
You saw how the days
undid you.
You saw wear wear you out
and let down, and how knots,
told to hold you, didn't.

It may be a disappointment,
but nothing turns out
as planned.

Perhaps the buttonhole you
left found another mate,
or the shirt itself
was torn up and now is
a rag that cleans the dusty floors.

That is, nothing turns
out as planned.

Even blind now, you can
see that the needle will not
come back for you,
or stitch hope back
into your dreams. You
will sleep now in that basket
with the others who
do not belong anymore
to this world of work and play.

That is,
nothing, not even the fate
of one small
button, turns out as planned.

It's the birthday of poet Carolyn Forché, born in Detroit (1950). One of her most famous poems is "The Colonel," about a Salvadoran colonel who emptied a bag of human ears on the floor in front of her while dismissing her concerns about human rights.

It's the birthday of folksinger Jean Redpath, born in Edinburgh (1937). She came to New York's Greenwich Village in 1961, where she made her first performance as a singer with the help of Rambling Jack Elliot and Bob Dylan. She's made dozens of recordings in her career, including a series of recordings of the songs of Scottish poet Robert Burns.

It's the birthday of novelist Harper Lee, born in Monroeville, Alabama (1926). In the 1950s, she left a job as an airline reservation clerk in New York City to return to her hometown to write. By 1957, she'd completed the manuscript of a novel. She spent two more years revising it, and the result was To Kill a Mockingbird (1960), her only published book. It won the Pulitzer Prize the following year.

It's the birthday of Scottish poet William Soutar, born in Perth, Scotland (1898). While quite young, he was diagnosed with a form of spondylitis, a debilitating disease: for most of his life, he was confined to bed. His father, who was a carpenter, enlarged his bedroom window so that he could look out into the garden. He wrote poetry about what he saw: two books of poetry in English—Conflict (1931) and The Solitary Way (1934) —and poetry in the Scots language: Seeds in the Wind: poems in Scots for children (1933), Poems in Scots (1935), and Riddles in Scots (1937). In the summer of 1943, when he knew he was dying, he began to keep a diary. It was published as Diaries of a Dying Man, and has become his most widely known book.

It's the birthday of Dutch jurist Tobias Asser, born in Amsterdam (1838), founder of the Institute of International Law. In 1893, he persuaded the Dutch government to call the first Hague Conference for the unification of international private law.

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