We left him sleeping peaceful in the night
but they have tied him down, bony wrists
wrapped in a sheepskin cuff, lashed tightly to the rail.
He was fierce after we left, they say:
shouting, tearing at the drip. Hard to believe it
of this gentle man, but this morning,
unbound for the time we’re there, he cavils,
clawing at the needle in his arm, moaning
and stubborn, baring his teeth at us
when we refuse. I stroke his fettered hand,
his paper forehead, murmur comfort,
courage, anything. He shakes me off, tossing
his head, red-eyed, an angry ram. Ha!
I must remember who I am: his child,
just a child, why do I question him?
So I hold my tongue, but stay. Lift up the cup,
with its candy-striped concertina straw,
to his splintered lip and he, in resignation, sucks.
Yes, we make a meagre congregation, father,
disobedient. The flesh, indeed, is weak.
Still, remembered echoes of his sermons come:
a promised child, the tangled ram, the sheep-clothed son;
last-minute rescues, legacies, and lies.
The promised and the chosen, certain hopes.
How, from these stories, are we to be wise?
His word was clear and sure before, but now
his raging, rambling, shakes this listener’s heart.
And yet, to be here, of some small use,
is a kind of peace. Three spoons of food,
oil for his hands, his feet. Then at last,
at last, returning to gentleness, he sleeps.
by Isobel Dixon
This poem is taken from the painful sequence ‘Meet My Father’, gathered in A Fold in the Map, which forms a searching exploration of grief at a father’s final painful journey into death.
A Fold in the Map is a nod to Jan Morris’s Trieste And The Meaning Of Nowhere, where the traveller’s state of in-between-ness is explored. Robert Frost said “a poem begins as a lump in the throat, a home-sickness, a love-sickness” and in these poems of love and longing for home, family, and other loved ones, Isobel Dixon draws on a rich store of natural imagery, illuminating the ordinary at times with a touch of wry humour. Her vivid poems will speak memorably to travellers, lovers and all those who mourn.
Isobel Dixon was born in Umtata, South Africa, grew up in the Karoo region and studied in Stellenbosch, and then in Edinburgh, before the world of publishing lured her to work in London. She now lives in Cambridge. Her poetry has been widely published in South Africa, where she won the Sanlam Prize and the Olive Schreiner Prize for her collection Weather Eye. Internationally, her work has been published in The Paris Review, Wasafiri, Avocado, The Guardian, London Magazine, and The Tall Lighthouse Review, among others, and has been translated into Dutch and Turkish. Her poems have appeared in many anthologies, including several of the British Council New Writing volumes, and she read on the first Oxfam Life Lines CD. She does regular readings around the country, often with a group of London-based poets, and has also participated in two group pamphlets Unfold and Ask for It by Name.
For further information, and to read more of Dixon’s poems, go to Salt Publishing.