Poem of the Fortnight

Taking a break from stripping wallpaper, remembering that tomorrow is the seventh anniversary of my mother’s death. Since I have no new poems, here is one I read at Mom’s memorial service.

Beachcombing for Grace

Searching among tidal wrack of crab carapaces,

sea urchins, driftwood and cigarette butts,

I want a certain shell for a sign,

yet knowing it won’t appear bidden

I still find solace in waves and seabirds, clouds

and toddlers shrieking in the surf.

When she still remembered

my mother told me how

she swam when she was young

and loved the ocean

showing me pictures of her

on a cold North Sea beach in woolen 1930s swimsuit.

She still loves living near the ocean

thousands of miles

and three-quarters of a century later.

I learned to swim at four

in the Newmarket municipal pool.

Wearing only panties

(quite all right in 1949)

I trusted my teacher’s safe hands

holding me in the water

and thank him with every stroke today,

but not by name—

one day I reached for it on my

memory’s shelf where it had always been

and it was gone.

My mother can’t remember

my sister doesn’t know

my father and brother are dead.


Helping my mother prepare for more family visitors,

I find the shell I sought on the beach, waiting for me on a corner shelf.

When I tell her, she gives it to me without a thought.


One day maybe I’ll be like her

giving my children unexpected gifts while

making them impatient

trying to remember

who taught them to swim.


Since I have already shared the North Sea beach picture, here is a photo of Mom as a young woman–that beautiful skin and gorgeous marcelled hair!

Thelma Wiggins,
July 24, 1913-October 30, 2005
undated photo, early 1930s


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