1930s. Childhood holiday snaps,
I can see it there already –
the consciousness of her limbs
as a series of compositions,
an attenuation of parts
that will become the official portrait.
Around her, the aura of invisible mitres
as the glue sets on the frame
that will turn the art of being
into an abstraction somewhere between
Cleopatra and the Madonna.
I felt safer as a child, safer
with the smudgy charcoal underdrawing,
the other side of my mother, which ghosted
now and again through the paint layers:
her accurate impersonation
of the fruity church contralto,
her foxtrot down the kitchen
with the sagging carcass
of an uncooked turkey.
Safest with my screams
of terror, delight, as we chased
round the dining table,
a Gothic enactment of Jabberwocky,
her fingers contorted into slithy toves, while
she voiced a slithering glissando
through the mimsy borogoves,
towards my triumph as the beamish boy,
the rehearsed reality of a final embrace.