Heron Cliff

Heron Cliff

Poetry

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About the book

From the title poem about giving up the beloved home where a son had taken his own life, to poems about her own childhood and interconnectedness to the ever-lengthening branches of the family tree, to poems about the larger upheavals of the world, Button articulates a vision of life where the darkest grief has a place alongside the most profound joy. Heron Cliff is a passionate work of consummate skill.

About the author

Button, Margo

Margo (Bartlett) Button is a retired French and Spanish teacher who taught high school in Hong Kong, Chile, Lebanon, and Canada. The Unhinging of Wings, her first book, recounts the death of her son, who suffered from schizophrenia. It won the B.C. Book Prize/Dorothy Livesay Award for Poetry in 1996, was shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, and was later adapted for the stage. Button's poetry has won national and international awards, including Arc's Confederation Poets Prize and the Petra Kenney Poetry Award. "Blue Dahlias" co-won The Malahat Review's Long Poem Prize and was awarded Gold in the poetry category of the 2006 National Magazine Awards. Her other books of poetry include The Shadows Fall Behind and The Elders' Palace (in English and Inuinnaqtun). She makes her home in Victoria, B.C.

Excerpt

Blue Dahlias

A hoe, a spade, a rake – what more do I need?
Gardening is an instrument of grace.

Ordinary delights grow here – barren wort,
bugbane, fountain grass, meadow rue.

And maybe, one day, blue dahlias –
something rare, unheard of.

Why build a fancy house when you desire a cottage?
Travel doesn't satisfy craving. Craving for what?

Dervishes whirl around their hearts,
burn like a torch. This too is prayer.

 

Gardener Teapots

Sept. 12, 2001

This morning the sun rises alizarin crimson
juice pressed from the madder root.
I take my favourite porcelain mug
stencilled with an English country garden
and while the water boils,
add a pinch of Russian Caravan
to the tiny pot with the cracked lid.

Gardener teapots
red,yellow, blue bone
china made in Russia
under Peter the Great
were lugged by camel caravans
over the Silk Road to Pakistan.

Waiting for the tea to steep, I hear
the Great Blue Heron's kraak
as it lumbers into flight

birds in the air, fish in the sea,
and the world did not end yesterday in New York.

When the pots broke,
menders salvaged the jagged bits,
bound them with the copper lugs
and sealed the cracks with tar
so they could again brew tea.

 

No Trade-Ins Allowed

I bought, you bought a:

Tsimshian mask of a human
transforming into an eagle

The winter we accused our son of
using drugs, he reproached us
for having possessions

Thai Buddha with mother-of-pearl eyes

He shaved his head and in monk's dress
meditated among the wild rhododendrons

Oxford red leather Bible that
lacked ingredients tasty for worms

Euphoric, he communed with God, blamed us
for not sending him to church as a child

Wool rug from Beijing
ancient coins woven dead centre

He sold his gold chain and the ring
engraved with his Chinese name
but that didn't drive away his demons

Gilt carving of soldiers on horseback
from a home ransacked by Red Guards

One night in a back alley, he wrestled
his father to the ground, stole his wallet

Balinese kris, its bloody history
embodied in the blade

He ripped off the hilt and pawned
an ebony lion with ruby eyes

Floppy clown dressed in red hearts
from close to home

After he was diagnosed we tried
to make a deal with God

 

Sky-Calling

for Ron

The albatross has a wingspan twice as wide as you are tall
and hollow bones so light

she barely moves her wings in flight, those long thin wings
hinges to fold like an origami bird

though she stumbles on earth with big webbed feet –
a gooney in floppy shoes.

Every winter she circumnavigates Antarctica, buffeted by icy currents
and Katabatic winds,

lands on the ocean to feed and rest – though how she sleeps
in avalanches of water

is a mystery to me. Once a year she returns to breed
on the Tairoa cliffs,

flapping her wings in a hullabaloo, craning her neck to the sky
and screeching for her mate

until he comes and sits by her side, as if to say,
I need you. I'll always need you.

Reviews

Button is able to vacillate between the personal and public in a way that focuses the eye on the individual petals of a singular flower and then travels back out to view the entire garden… Heron Cliff is about the… >>

Event

In 'Blue Dahlias,' the brilliant long sequence that concludes the book, moving house has become a reality. Button employs a series of ghazal-like stanzas to maximum effect, each one consisting of five (mostly) autonomous couplets. Ghazals are by their nature… >>

— Barbara Myers Arc Poetry Magazine

Victoria writer Margo Button's third book, Heron Cliff, deals extensively with personal history. She's travelled a lot and has an interesting family, so the material is worth mining.

Sometimes the result is mostly prose: "On the wall… >>

The Winnipeg Free Press

As a mother, I can't imagine anything worse than the death of one of my children. Margo Button has not only experienced this horror, she continues to find ways to write about it, albeit in this collection more even-handedly than… >>

— Heidi Greco Prairie Fire


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