Two Poems for My Mother


Isabel Jean Sharp (nee Campbell)
18th April, 1921 – 15th June, 2020


Minding my mother’s house, I wake to so many mornings.
Around me a spangled cloak—sun
through camphor laurels—
after currawongs and magpies have called.
Grass green-ant rife, wet above red earth.
Cold, the stillness—the sparking
dew upon spiderwebs—without my father
to fire the stove and toast the house.

On the kitchen table, a dull, dented dipper
dutifully waits to froth flowers:
formal Gregorian camellias, common chants of daisies,
sibilant thryptomene or still-thoughtful
Geraldton wax … Mute metal fills
with the cool carol of rainwater,
ringing round snipped stalks.
My mother, her long hair unpinned—
each morning young again—adds another bud.

My mother is in England, visiting oaks.
The scent of a storm
arrives like a visitor at her back door, not knocking.
In a mist, dust and dread marry. My mother,
sniffing at sentiment,
breezily predicting her death, dispenses china
and crested spoons …

Rain on the roof drums down her threats.
Forever through the garden she rustles life
while the house, cordoned off by fog
holds what she will leave: years spun out
like hanks of greasy wool, burrs in the fleece—
this happy cloak I hug hard round me
suddenly too thinly plied. As the storm arrives,
I mind her house. Air gasps. Chill light …
At the back door, this scent: mourning earth.

(from Practising Breathing, Hale & Iremonger, 1991)



Sly frangipani breath, sweet memory snuff –
out of nowhere, how brief grace unfolds.

It follows me down the footpath at dusk:
scent from unseen trees.
I think of my father, the last husk
of him, breathless, under that canopy

of clotted cream and butterscotch … once more,
my mother’s garden dapples me, her native frangipani
offering naves for butcher birds
and flying buttresses for possums …

a place where she promised we’d be
‘nearer God’s heart

than anywhere else on earth’.
The earth under my feet
is shadow-inked now, another day nearly written out
but not yet forgotten

as I scan from soil to sky, find the light
and its silent psalm of scent
in the falling songs of currawongs,
their winged black calling home

shy as a blessing, the first star.

(from The Hour of Silvered Mullet, Pitt Street Poetry, 2015)

A Brief Note about the Poems
When I wrote the first poem, ‘Minding my Mother’s House’, it was only a few years after my father died, and I don’t think my mother could possibly imagine then that she would still have more than four decades to live.
I read the second poem, ‘The Scent of Native Frangipani’, at her funeral on June 23rd, 2020.

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