Isobel Dixon was born in South Africa, where her debut Weather Eye (Carapace, 2001) was published and won the Sanlam and Oliver Schreiner prizes. Her work is featured in several anthologies: Birdbook I, Psycho Poetica (both Sidekick Books), Penguin’s Poems for Love, The Forward Book of Poetry, and Salt’s The Best of British Poetry 2011.
Salt published A Fold in the Map (2007) and The Tempest Prognosticator (2011), which J M Coetzee described as ‘a virtuoso collection’ and which in the South African edition (published by Umuzi) was shortlisted for the SALA Award. She co-wrote and performed in The Debris Field: Salvaging the Titanic in Word, Sound & Image, now also published by Sidekick Books.
You, Me and the Orang-utan
Forgive me, it was not my plan
to fall in love like this. You are the best of men,
but he is something else. A king
among the puny, gentle, nurturing.
Walking without you through the zoo, I felt his gaze,
love at first sight, yes, but through the bars, alas.
Believe me, though, it’s not a question of his size –
what did it for me were his supple lips, those melancholy eyes,
that noble, furrowed brow. His heart, so filled with care
for every species. And his own, so threatened, rare –
how could I not respond, there are so few like him these days?
Don’t try to ape him or dissuade me, darling, please.
For now I think of little else, although
it’s hopeless and it can’t go on, I know –
I lie here, burning, on our bed, and think of Borneo.
I set myself this task:
walk home from school on shadows –
not something to be lightly
undertaken, noon in the Karoo,
sun blazing high and vertical,
and shadows scarce.
It cost long, slow diversions
down the tree-lined streets, huge leaps
to where the dappled stipplings
of the leaves proved only just enough
and one brief foray into someone’s
garden and the fretted path
cast by a lucky willow tree.
At last, red-faced and sticky,
squeezed into the margin –
thin black line thrown to the pavement
by a gutterpipe – I wrestled
with my laces, stripped off
dust-embroidered socks and stepped
down to the furrow’s cool
and fluid seam. My suitcase,
burdensome with schoolbooks, hoisted
to my head: a Congo porter,
knee-deep, stoic, wading home.
No hero’s welcome though:
my footprints barely drying
on the flagstones, our verandah,
and the silence of the house
already ominous. My sisters
long returned, lunch eaten,
dishes washed. How could I know
she would be phoning, frantic –
my mother, always unconcerned,
sending me out on testing errands,
making me grow up brave. How to explain
this silly shadow-play?
As if I had a choice –
did she think I went on it,
that thirsty journey, just to vex her,
that I wanted to come home to scolding,
hot and dusty, hours late?
Didn’t she understand
that once you’ve set out on your odyssey
you’re bound to it, to rules you cannot break?