Tag Archives: poem

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.

Isobel Dixon’s ‘Positano’

Isobel Dixon
The villa’s whitewash clotted
scarlet with geraniums,
the bougainvillea’s purple
bruise smeared inbetween –
I sit here, mottled,
in the shadow of the vine.
The sea is welded
to the sky, a beaten
shield, enamelled, glittering
and everything is molten,
rich, beneath this sun,
such grandiose munificence,
the alchemy transforming
even me – slowly, in thrall,
from milk to gold. After
a day among the ruins
of Pompeii, dust still clings,
a pale reminder, to my shoes,
but now I watch the yachts
below and ring the ice against
the bottom of my glass,
an answer to the winking sea,
the tinkling of the masts.
Remember Ripley, wish
I didn’t wish for all of this
and more. This lustrous,
postcard life. Hear
how my darkened hallway’s
silence shudders at the falling
to the mat, implacable,
of crisp, clear-windowed
envelopes, that smother
my bright rectangle,
its foreign stamp,
the lines I sent back
to my dull domestic self:
Wish you were dead,
and I was always whole
and golden, always here.
From A Fold in the Map (Salt Publishing, 2007).

Isobel Dixon’s ‘Gemini’

Isobel Dixon
Below my heart hang two pale women,
ghostly, gelid, sea-horse girls.
Without my telling you would never
see them, tiny tapioca clumps suspended
in the silt between my bones.
So nearly motionless, they are both breathing,
dreaming their amoebic dreams,
and I swear when I wake before dawn, try
vainly to return to mine, I hear them, faintly,
murmuring. But my ribs make a shallow hull
and one of them must go. Duck, bail out,
flushed into the sewage and the wider sea.
I can’t endure them both, adrift
among my vital parts, sizing each other up
with tadpole eyes. I must decide
and feed the lucky one. Let the other shrink,
dissolve back to this body’s salty soup.
Look closely at them: soulmates, secret
sharers, not-quite-siamese. Who stays,
who goes, which one of them is history?
She kicks up an almighty storm, makes
waves, enormous, tidal; while her sister’s
calm, pacific, dull. Our oil-on-troubled-water-
pourer, keeper of the peace. You choose
mark one who should be squeezed out
of this narrow vessel; voided, spilled,
to lighten, buoy me, make some space.
Plain sailing then, I’ll forge ahead, forget
her spectral presence, and a lifetime’s
sly, subversive whispering. Learn
single-mindedness at last. But when it’s well
and truly done, how will I know? Will I feel
relief, release, how the balance shifts
and settles; then walk straight, unpuzzled,
sure  or limp and stumble, still
obscurely troubled, phantom-limbed?
from A Fold in the Map (Salt Publishing, 2007)
Read more about Isobel and A Fold in the Map here.
Visit Isobel’s website here.

Myesha Jenkins’s ‘Food’

Born in 1948, Myesha Jenkins spent most of her life in California.  She graduated from the University of California, Riverside, with a BA degree in Black Studies.  She moved to South Africa from the San Francisco Bay Area where she was active in progressive politics, the women’s movement and the anti-apartheid struggle.  Her collection, Breaking the surface, was published by Timbila Poetry Project in 2005.
Myesha Jenkins
My experience of life
is through food
entwined and embedded
in my memories
Home is ham hocks and pinto beans
brownies and corn pudding
reflecting the origins
of my south mama
my root
Cuba will always be
strong black coffee
and seven kinds of pork
at the Palacio Nacional
waiting to meet Fidel
Sourdough bread across the bridges
to the jeweled city of my discovery
of carnitas tacos and burritos
pad thai, mushu pork and pupusas
walking away crab cocktails
searching for myself
Years of planning and assessing
my little corner of the revolution
in Miriam’s Kitchen
or Manila Beach
through jasmin tea, jung and kimchee
or the occasional delivery of
coconut bread and codfish cakes
from Linda’s last visit to Brooklyn
The beginning of my end to drinking
Flor de Cana in Nicaragua
and it’s deadly equivalent in Hawaii
staggering to the beach
running from my dreams
My first shaky month in a new life
buying dinner “R2 a plate, mama”
from the bus stop to home
finding umngqushu and phutu,
koeksisters and all the kinds of curries
When I go to Cape Town
the trip is useless
without the Mexican, Thai, Japanese food
I crave as much
as the magic sea mountain
There is more.
Love will always be litchis
Summer is pineapple and mangoes
Indulgence is brie and a ton of seafood
or a Magnum chocolate bar
I wonder how much more of this life
I could live
without the food
swallowing all of my energy
to grow.

Gaia Holmes’s ‘House Clearance’

House Clearance
Gaia Holmes
Slowly she’s started clearing things out
starting with the useless items:
chipped china cups,
trust shot-through with hairline cracks,
orphaned plugs and fuse wire,
cupboards full of arguments,
the broken stereos
he’d planned to resurrect.
And then there are the things
she’d like to keep
but knows she’ll never use:
those bright, rich nights
that no longer fit,
the creaking songs
of the bed frame
now dull and flat
and out of key,
the sugared lovers’ lingo
that has settled like cobwebs
in the corners of the room.

And love, what’s left of it,
she boils up the bones,
flavours the vapid broth
with stock and spice,
sets up a soup shack
on the ragged edge of town
and serves it to the homeless,
the hungry, the loveless creatures
of the night.

Gaia Holmes’s ‘When he comes’

When he comes
Gaia Holmes
So this is it.
This is the night.
Downstairs the sofa
doesn’t know me anymore,
my occasional china
is cracking with boredom,
the front door
is guarded by foxgloves
and throttled
with toad-flax
and this is it.
This is me;
mad woman in the attic
sifting the air for gold-dust,
a circle of crushed moths
patterning the carpet
around my feet,
cold coffee at my elbow,
logic in a hip-flask
and I’m drinking wine
that tastes of hay
and Salamanca in July
and we’re all waiting
for the storm, an answer,
a fag-burn in the sky,
words etched into
the slick streets,
the soft porn
of rain
on the skylight window.
We’re all waiting
for our dead dogs
to rattle up the stairs.
We’re all waiting
for our grandmothers
to polish our eyes
with spit
on the corner
of a vest.
We’re all waiting
for someone to say our name
with meaning.
We’re all waiting,
ears angled cat-like,
for a car to pull up,
for inspiration
to open the door
and enter
smelling of life,
of blood,
of little deaths,
of unspeakable notions
and say I’m yours.
Take me now.

Gaia Holmes’s ‘Jesus Feet’

Jesus Feet
Gaia Holmes
I’ve wept on them, wished on them,
prayed on them so many times
but nothing’s come of these little acts of faith
and I’m giving up.
I’m putting your skinny Jesus feet
in the top drawer of the freezer,
squeezing them in between the oven chips
and the frozen garden peas.
Elsewhere you are someone else’s salvation
and you are working miracles.
You are driving her to important meetings.
You are baking stylish golden loaves of bread.
You are turning her bathwater into good red wine.
You are putting up shelves.
You are curing her worries.
You are saying her name with meaning.
You are coaxing the tensions out of her spine.
I’d be happy with half a miracle,
something close to a blessing,
a tender visitation
but I’m tired
of all these late night vigils
with the kettle ready to be boiled
and the tea bag ready in your cup
and our bed laundered, scented
and ready to be filled
so I’m replacing my hope
with a lack of expectation.
I’m replacing
the technicolor image of your face
with the faded, dog-eared poster
of an unimportant saint.

Gaia Holmes’s ‘Blessed’

Gaia Holmes
Your grandmother
had tins full of prayer tags
and soft Garibaldi biscuits.
She kept gossip like hymn sheets
folded into the back
of her breeze-block bible,
kept a row of icons
above her fireplace
with garish hearts
like rotting plums,
reserved the best bone china
for priests, saints
and other visitations.
If you were lucky, upon leaving
you’d be blessed with a dry kiss
pressed upon the brow,
otherwise you’d leave
drenched in a frenzy of spit,
Hail Mary’s and Holy water.
You said I’d done quite well,
made a good impression
but I could tell by the way
she edged her way
around my name
and how damp I was
when we said goodbye
that she thought
I’d burn in Hell.

Gaia Holmes’s ‘Sloth’

Gaia Holmes
And it comes to me
as we drive through moors
clotted with burnt, black heather,
where the air smells of sulphur and honey.
Inland, away from you
the sky is a finger painting:
stale streaks of dark clouds daubed
above the slated roof tops.
You have to learn to register these things:
the sweet and the sour
moments of life,
each dead pheasant you pass
fluttering like a ballgown
in the motorway breeze,
each blurred wasp you see
pulped against the windscreen:
the frail mortality of colour.
Remember – this is the way you breathe,
like a symphony of echo
trapped inside a shell.
On days like this
there are certain things that you recall:
the clinging breeze loaded with salt,
dead fish rotting on the tide line,
the way that the edges of the land
blurred and spread
and sunk into the sea.
Remember that day when we woke
because the sun beams nudged us
out of our sticky nest of sloth.
Our ambition became sobriety.
We binned empty wine bottles
and sour milk,
scoured lust off the dishes,
sat out in the garden,
and waited for our hearts to dry.

Gaia Holmes’s ‘Charm’

Gaia Holmes
He could charm the poison out of fox gloves
and used his skills to quicken my heart.
I wondered what he fed on: frayed liturgies
and the secret dreams of women,
toxic spores translated into messages
of lust, slivers of the dank March sky
rolled up like pickled herring.
I never knew. He always skimmed me,
left me hooked on some potent pollen,
some sacrificial line,
some cold gap between sentiments.
His fingers were like cathedrals,
too big to untie my delicate knots
yet he knew me inside out like he knew
the names of flowers and bats and clouds,
like he knew how to throw daggers
without skewering the soul.
He could sniff out creeping wolf-men
and crack their backbones with a lazy wink,
worked my fingers to his throat
like a snake charmer,
made me slide and arch with his singing breath.
After we’d loved and I was doped up on glow
he laid wet silver on my eyelids
believing it would bring him luck.