ROBERT SHEPPARD: from ‘Arrival’

We like infants descend

In our shadows on earth,

Like a weak mortal birth.

William Blake, Sussex, 1800


I stayed away till now. I was upset, so they said. He came home with me, gave me chocolates and a card. I came with an egg and ten shillings. I told him I loved him in sign-language. Airfix airbrick. He found my name on a certificate, later in The Shoreham Herald. Me. Me. Me. I was the new girl, and I threw a party to celebrate.

I felt ill. I came with a husband. It was my birthday. I took him to Derry and Toms’ roof-garden. Nylon starspin. He left us all behind. I was still smiling, my public disposition. He came back to see me. I saw two lights over the Downs: could it have been one of his flying saucers? Salt in the air, chalk in the water. I was christened. I went over. I was born.

I was still ill, but he got on with some writing. He came to visit. I came to visit. I was responsible for the children’s programmes. It was my birthday. Bluebell gristleball. He didn’t have me. I met my two cousins, another christening. Why were pirate radio stations named after girls? He came round. And again the next week. And at Christmas he appeared and broke a Little Richard 78 that he said he was keeping as an heirloom.

I came up and he used the last of the film on me, but was never to develop the roll. He did a ‘hi-fi amplifier show’ broadcasting to us downstairs. I fell over. They saw me as a hippie. I felt ill. I was ill. He got my shopping. My family ‘etc.’ came round and listened to the pirate station. I was the substitute for his maths teacher. He came to my wedding, the christening, and I cried all through the service. It was my biology test. I was ill with flu. Fuchsia Eggfield. We went to Preston Park and he had a go on my moped. That day he came over and discovered the blues. I confiscated Father’s copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover from him; he played Je t’aime loud in his bedroom. I came. It was my coronation. I had a friend who was writing an article for The Daily Telegraph on school dinners, and he helped me, all part of his revolutionary struggle! He helped me with the Christmas turkey as well and, despite everything, I danced.

We took him out for a walk, his first in ages, to the new Churchill Square, for a change in fashion: the girls in maxi-coats and maxi-skirts. I took him to the doctor for stronger pills. I took him for an X-ray, but he tried auto-suggestion instead. I was one of the DJs but he couldn’t remember my name. I married all the Beatles. I married a man named Bob. He hung my portrait on the wall as a joke. He burnt the contact prints of me giving blow-jobs to four men I’d not met before. He told me to take down the pirate radio posters from the windows. He thought I was a fool who went on and on about how I hated George Bernard Shaw. I came up and football was involved somehow. I came over. He gave me an apple. I was Millie Small in the discotheque in his best friend’s story. I stayed in while he went scavenging for books and records. I wanted to clear out the shed but there were so many things I couldn’t part with. When we were out on the lake he explained it had all been for me: he imagined me as an outdoor type. I showed them all of the holiday movies, Scotland 1968 and so on. I suggested he and his cousin should go to the jumble sale and they came back with a pile of pre-War National Geographic Magazines and two Bill Haley 78s. I was married to the drunk who used to fight the war with our Father; his dog would beg for peanuts. My boy friend looked like George Best; his eyes ejaculated. I handed out copies of Communist England at Brighton Station. ‘You nearly got through to me on that Ouja board but I could smell you’d had enough of letter games,’ I said. I was out when he called. I was ill so they took me to Black Rock, to West End Café, and over the new flyover to the largest village in England. I wouldn’t let you go. He called my house a dump, but he still helped me in the garden, moaning a Blind Lemon Jefferson blues. I could see the North Downs in Surrey and way out into the English Channel. After my wedding I met my family for the first time. Looking at the naked women on his walls I said, ‘Don’ git any bleedin’ ideas!’ When he came into my classroom I snorted: ‘Those who paint are jealous of those who write. He can go about with flowers in his hair and bells on his toes, but I’m not!’ I also tried to give him the D.H. Lawrence back, but he ran out of the room. They were only there to see my short skirt. ‘Hey hey Mama! look at this!’ he heard me cry. We took him to the sandstone ridges and he tried to fly his kite. I talked all through the exam so he couldn’t think. He thought I was a revolutionary. I came up. I knew what he meant but that wasn’t the reason. I came up because the others were escaping me. I dropped him into Count Basie with my pen of brittle bone. When the teacher called the boys’ register with girls’ Christian names as revenge for turning his desk to the wall, what name did he give him? Mine? By the time I showed up, he’d lost his keys. I came up again. He liked Carol but so did everybody else. I turned up, a surprise! I took him to Brighton to buy his corduroy trousers. I was his pen friend now, and he wrote to me, tales of seaweed, finding le mot juste for its odour. He found my caravan on the South Saxon shore, but no me! He found my name in the visitors’ book at the church in Bosham. Fashioned with my clotted flow. I was all the women who picked the daisies. I worked behind the bar, Miss West Sussex in my hot pants. He listened to my special language, and I told him that Terry was sweet. He told me to leave the house. Tucked up in the sleeping bag he called me Toni. They spoke to me stiff with novelty. He showed me his letter from Moscow; he taught me the geography of Britain. They spoke to me stiff, no longer with novelty, so I punched him in the face. They stopped speaking to me, sat somewhere else. I stopped so he could buy Strange Days. I showed them my new house, Georgian style. He was a screw among the nails, singing. I lent him Sons and Lovers and I could still feel him stiff with interest. I’d not got far with Women in Love. Feeling awful he wrote an awful song. For me. We tapesponded about the ELP concert. I was the first girl guitarist in his band and it was difficult to be heard. In the calligraphy lesson I worked on the motto ‘Sex Before Marriage’ but he brought in Chairman Mao’s Red Book. Instead of translating he cracked jokes in English, that my hair was a wig, etc. My son was christened by his name. I didn’t believe his stories, that he wrote them himself, I mean; I wanted him to write mine. I wore my maxi-coat and I praised Judi Dench. Meeting by chance I noticed he was carrying Oz to read during games. He kept talking in the hope Wendy would turn up. I told her to turn him down but to pay him back the sixpence she’d borrowed in London on the way to the William Blake. She acted to script, especially when she played Calpurnia to his Caesar. Black Rock is the default destination after all. The stories he told about Tony weren’t all true, but they fuelled my ardour. I thought him a sweet little boy. His letter was pathetic but I told him it was very beautiful and I knelt down to ask for forgiveness. I was all over the show with all sorts of people. I went red and rock n’ rolled. His card showed a little boy and girl looking up at the stars. I knew it: I was supposed to come down.

They called me ‘Tante’ but I wasn’t really. I was angry in English. He printed an ancient negative of my sister and me as teenagers and all his friends fell in love with me. I didn’t do anything nice alone in that bedroom. Behold my innocent face, huge legs, massive buttocks, all guilty, now the king’s found out about my affairs with his courtiers. Their flippers turned me on. He jumped to conclusions after the method, before his findings. I wanted him to photograph me but he refused at first. He stuck to me instead, gave me two boxes of chocolates. He noticed me pointing him out to my nymphs. I borrowed his scrolls to read and carved my name along their wooden shafts. He asked me to exhume an old friend for his friend, a suicide. I buried myself in him. He was worried by my obsession with black magic. We read the telephone directory together, one of his party tricks. I played the guitar. I lusted for the pilot. Who spoke to whom and who spoke of what, when, how or why. I said I’d kill Trevor but I didn’t. I phoned but it wasn’t me. I took on the role of invalid so I couldn’t let him stay for long. He phoned from Partridge Green, scatted Cole Porter and Gershwin down the line. I died last night at 7:30. I stood on the desk and pulled them down. I heaved my glistening black breasts beneath my thin white dress. Up in the belfry, he blathered about ‘the impenetrable fog of others’! I was late, but he waited for me in the rain at the bus stop, actually made me laugh under the umbrella, and then while we inspected a dead bird in the kerb, he kissed me. I saw them in his room, affected disgust, but laughed behind my hand. I sat in the rain, wracked with arthritis. I saw lions. I saw the back of Rev. Gary Davis ascending. I phoned him and told him that I didn’t like his music, advised him to push his lips out as though he were kissing. We sat at the John Mayall concert two rows behind, just to unnerve them. They found the poem I wrote to him in his book: ancient history by now. He saw the baby for the first time. I sobbed and asked him to write me a song like the ones he was pasting on the sculpture of his life. The headmaster caught me lamenting with my hand-maidens behind the lockers. I was the fairy dancing on his birthday cake. He found he was as he always thought he’d been, but I locked him out of my house. He’s got my picture bigger and bigger and bigger. He’s got my stereophonic voices farther and farther apart. On one channel you can still hear me sighing in 1971. On the other somebody is undoing my blouse, in rustles, yesterday.


Robert Sheppard


 Robert Sheppard’s next book is The Given/Arrival/When from which the text published in Junction Box comes. He calls them ‘autrebiographies’. His most recent book is A Translated Man, a series of fictional poems, published by Shearsman. He has recently collaborated with poets Robert Hampson, Zoë Skoulding, Jeff Hilson; painter Pete Clarke; and dancer Jo Blowers (though not all at once). He intermittently blogs at, he lives in Liverpool and works at Edge Hill University, Ormskirk. 



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