Saturday, August 18, 2018

i.m. Joan Winifred Sheppard (1929-2018)

With (remix August 2018)

i.m. Joan Winifred Sheppard (April 25th 1929-August 16th 2018)

My mother sits in a large living room with family photographs on the sideboard. My mother in the typing pool, glamorous, with eyes lowered to copy. My mother as a rag doll with the Christmas tree beside her. My mother with gloves leans, languid, against a frosted sash window. My mother sunbathing with a sun-glared garden behind her. My mother as a toddler advances across the grass, with arms waving, while over the road an awning advertises Antarctic Real Cream Ices. My mother perched high on a groyne with her crossed leg dangling. My mother with curlers, stretched across the low metal folding-chair. My mother laughing in a sleeveless jumper on the low metal folding-chair, with both her hands resting, claw-like, across her knees, her floral skirt. My mother grips the rail of the ship with me standing long-haired, shirt collar worn over jacket collar, sun-face lapel badge, beside her. My mother with wavy hair, half-smiling, direct gaze. My mother with wavy hair, in profile. My mother with hundreds of huge roses, petals carpeting the grass. My mother’s ferocious gaze, eyebrows stark, with a crowd of ox-eye daisies as chorus. My father and mother and aunt (and me) picnicking with a tablecloth by the roadside, beneath the barbed wire fence. My mother’s friend’s two children, one in school uniform, the other (my age) with his Open and Look picture-book. My mother sunbathes on the shingle while I read a comic under my straw hat, with my antique camera by my side on the towel. My mother in chiaroscuro with the glowing window. Daffodils dancing with narcissi. Amaryllis with a stiff neck. My mother with rows of fuchsia, morning glories, geraniums. My son bends over on the path to the sea, with trees waving above. My mother and my son grin in the light with a pool of shade leaking from the tree behind. My mother and father stand high on pebbles with a cloud swelling at their backs. Tulips from Amsterdam guard the garden gate, a trellis with prickles. A table at Oakapple Road laid for dinner with wine glasses ringing. My mother pouring Blue Nun with my son scooping up his dinner. My mother and her sister rest on the bench with the canopy above. My mother and her sister and my uncle rest on the bench with the canopy above. A table set for Christmas dinner with crackers placed to the right of each tablemat. My parents’ wedding, 1950, the full contingent packing in, smiling, with Air Ace teeth and Dr Crippen spectacles, handbags and bonnets, double-breasted suits and bouquets. A postcard, postmarked 14th August 1956, begins ‘Dear Son and Joan’, with pictures of Paignton on the verso, and ends: ‘Love Mum’. My mother – a fragment of her – caught on the grass with the rug crumpled beneath. My mother turns towards flamingos with a bag slung across her shoulder. My mother coming out of a caravan with flip-flops and a bath towel. My mother smiling under a straw hat, leaning with discomfort on granite. My mother on a dune with the curve of the bay framing the crested seashore. My mother, hair high, frowns, leans out of the dip of the deck chair, with the green budgie in its cage, sharpening its beak on the cuttlefish, echoing everyone’s voices.  My mother Hoovers the cat, who sits on the Hoover. My mother and I sit on the neat grass with my aunt and her mother. My mother in a hollow between dunes, with footprints leading to her, two fangs of rock in the bay behind. My mother in headscarf hangs onto the rail of the ship with grisly black rocks beyond. In the Triumph Herald, my mother pours tea from a thermos with a shopping bag beside her. My mother before the little yachts with glitters to animate them. My mother improvising with an alien kitchen. Outside the church, my uncle and aunt with my mother, and me, in sunglasses, carrying my cassette recorder. My mother as a giggling girl, my aunt as a smiling girl, with the tall woman, the toddler on the wooden horse taking my mother’s resistant hand. On Hove Lagoon my father and I look back to my mother on the quay, as he rows us out with ease and care. My mother with headscarf climbs up on the dune, two jagged rocks out to sea. The fishing village with boats bobbing at the street, my mother perched on a wall. Barefoot, with flip-flops in hand, my mother waits. My grandparents on the picnic chairs, my mother and I slump on the rug with the Tupperware and transistor radio, she in a pink dress, me in a bright pink shirt. My mother and aunt sit on a cannon, both laughing with straw hats. With a stick, my mother scratches a message on the path. My mother smiles in her homemade dress, with dinner yet to be served. Plastic tassels over the door with modest fuchsias and marigolds. My father and mother cut the cake with a clump of hands and knotted ball of fingers. My mother at the church door, smiling full and unabashed, accepts her centrality to the universe with this moment. On her father’s arm, with her veil down, my mother thinks she’s invisible.

1st March 2012/2013/August 2018

Note: I made good use of photographs liberated from the family home in 2012, and wrote a long prose poem called ‘With’ (the word is used in every sentence) which gives a brief 'account' of many photographs. It’s a collage, appropriate to this fragmented account, and I have remixed it above to isolate the sentences about Joan. They come in no particular chronological order, but neither does memory. It's too long for the funeral oration, so I'm putting it here in immediate memory of my mother. 

My eulogy for my mother may be read here.  The pre-re-mix of the text is published in Words Out of Time, which is available here. Oddly I'd forgotten there was a rejected passage (the original was too long) - I've just used one or two of its sentences in the final mix - which I posted here.

My memorial for my father is here.

'Standing By', my poem in his memory, is now published with another poem as The Drop. See here