Isobel Dixon’s ‘She Comes Swimming’

  
 
She Comes Swimming
Isobel Dixon
 
She comes swimming to you, following
da Gama’s wake. The twisting Nile
won’t take her halfway far enough.
 
No, don’t imagine sirens – mermaid
beauty is too delicate and quick.
Nor does she have that radiance,
 
Botticelli’s Venus glow. No golden
goddess, she’s a southern
selkie-sister, dusky otter-girl
 
who breasts the cold Benguela, rides
the rough Atlantic swell, its chilly
tides, for leagues and leagues.
 
Her pelt is salty, soaked. Worn out,
she floats, a dark Ophelia, thinking
what it feels like just to sink
 
caressed by seaweed, nibbled by
a school of jewel-plated fish.
But with her chin tipped skyward
 
she can’t miss the Southern Cross
which now looks newly down on her,
a buttress for the roof of her familiar
 
hemisphere. She’s nearly there.
With wrinkled fingertips, she strokes
her rosary of ivory, bone and horn
 
and some black seed or stone
she can’t recall the name of,
only knows its rubbed-down feel.
 
And then she thanks her stars,
the ones she’s always known,
and flips herself, to find her rhythm
 
and her course again. On, southwards,
yes, much further south than this.
This time she’ll pay attention
 
to the names – not just the English,
Portuguese and Dutch, the splicings
and accretions of the years. She’ll search
 
for first names in that Urworld, find
her heart-land’s mother tongue.
Perhaps there’s no such language,
 
only touch – but that’s at least a dialect
still spoken there. She knows when she
arrives she’ll have to learn again,
 
so much forgotten, lost. And when
they put her to the test she fears
she’ll be found wanting, out of step.

But now what she must do is swim,
stay focused for each stroke,
until she feels the landshelf
 
far beneath her rise, a gentle slope
up to the rock, the Cape,
the Fairest Cape, Her Mother City
 
and its mountain, waiting, wrapped
in veils of cloud and smoke.
Then she must concentrate, dodge
 
nets and wrack, a plastic bag afloat –
a flaccid, shrunk albino ray –
until she’s close enough to touch
 
down on the seabed, stumble
to the beach – the glistening sand
as great a treasure as her Milky Way –
 
fall on her knees and plant a kiss
and her old string of beads,
her own explorer’s cross
 
into the cruel, fruitful earth at last.
She’s at your feet. Her heart
is beating fast. Her limbs are weak.
 
Make her look up. Tell her she’s home.
Don’t send her on her way again.

5 thoughts on “Isobel Dixon’s ‘She Comes Swimming’

  1. Julie

    This is so freaking excellent. I love, love, love:

    “…No golden
    goddess, she’s a southern
    selkie-sister, dusky otter-girl

    who breasts the cold Benguela, rides
    the rough Atlantic swell, its chilly
    tides, for leagues and leagues.

    Her pelt is salty, soaked. Worn out,
    she floats, a dark Ophelia, thinking
    what it feels like just to sink

    caressed by seaweed, nibbled by
    a school of jewel-plated fish.”

    Sorry to mess up the stanzas there, which leads me to my next impression. What amazing form!! I also think the “she” of the poem is very beautiful.

    Thanks for these wonderful posts. The poetry has made my day.

  2. christine

    I wish I had written this poem! I’m a life-long swimmer, love to have my face in the water, for endless laps, or across lakes. This poem really sends me! I love her use of ‘breast.’

    Beautiful language.

  3. Lucy

    I love these wonderful wild salty things from this poet…

    (Thanks for your enquiry about Molly. She’s been off antibiotics for five weeks now, and so far seems to be fine. She has a homeopathic treatment for the thymus, to boost and regulate her immune system, as it seems like when something attacks her immune system is when she’s in danger of succumbing to the bugs and abscesses which she can fight off the rest of the time. She’s going for a check-up with her regular vet tomorrow.)

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