The Barbara Hepworth Blues

At the bottom of the garden, my mother and a woman
dressed like Barbara Hepworth argue over a sculpture of my birth,


if the bronze plinth should be horizontal or vertical,
the right shade of blue for the umbilical cord.


Hepworth adds a curl of hair with a toothbrush,
pats down the clay like a pony.


My mother sticks her chisel in, disappointed
in the arrangement of her legs, if she had her way


the sculpture would include a dancing fountain and hum
like a refrigerator, full of roses, a sundial and a coat of arms,


her snacks, soft drinks and wine. Instead the sculpture stands
in the April shadows of overgrown gorse,


one arm in the air like the chimney of the defunct
engine house where my father


worked in the summer of ’85, where copper wires crawled in
beneath the sea – no messages.


But what about the father? Hepworth asks.
Oh, he wasn’t involved, my mother says.


Hepworth rolls her eyes, the whites of her eyeballs
like a cliff face, the grey of her overalls


like a gun. She begins to sing:
Don’t turn your back on me, baby.


Blues like the sulky one in a rainbow.
Blues like your favourite moon.


With so many conflicting opinions, a therapist
had warned the sculpture of my birth of this moment


and offered some advice: be lucid.
Talk to the older generations as if talking to the sea.


Keep a list of all their errors, like those lists
you’ll keep of all the things you eat while falling in love:


roast beef, feta cheese, champagne bon bons, shish taouk,
french fries and wild grass.


Keep a list of all the places where you’ll no longer have to be a sculpture
or a birth: the backseat of a servees on Rue Sursock,


a minibus across the Asian Minor,
the heart-shaped swimming pool of Le Club Militaire.


Even Hepworth will not be able to capture the light as it falls
over your face on a Red Sea bottomless boat —


the fishes kissing the glass, the moon flirting with the sky,
only hinting at its evening plans.


My mother interrupts: Aren’t the blues a bit obvious?
The woman who once refused a pedicure


on her wedding day – who said if she wanted her toenails
in a different colour she’d slam them in the car door.


Blues like the indoors with the outside coming at you with a chisel.
Blues like your favourite ocean.


Hepworth sighs and dusts down her overalls, abandons the sculpture,
walks up the garden path, retires for the day.


And in the evening’s distance, wild gorse rattles against
the windows of a passing train.


NJ STALLARD is a writer, editor and poet. Her work has been featured in publications such as Tank, Broadly, Ambit, Hotel and PN Review, and she was the winner of the Aleph Writing Prize 2018. She is working on her first novel.



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