Outside, the afternoon is ringing,
ringing, massed cicadas singing out
their silly news. The hot
brown garden’s loud
with all their gossipmongering.
The insect grapevine –
shrill bush telephone –
incessant beetle headlines
shrieked into the heat.
Like our old radiogram,
its fizzing, whistling, wheezing,
as we ease the big ribbed knob
and line the red bar up,
with news from Moscow, Greece,
These noisy chaps are closer,
sounding off from somewhere near.
The jacaranda, or the orange trees,
we can’t be sure.
They are everywhere,
and nowhere, sly cicadas,
no-one can decipher them.
Or was it just the sound
of sticky tarmac, shimmering?
Who knows? Perhaps the noonday shouting
never was that clamorous.
Our tricky memory contrives
and always turns the volume up
and in the end I guess
that they were merely stuck
at fundamentals, needle jumping,
at the prod of sex, or simply whooping
– summer! summer! summer! –
every minute of their short, hot beetle lives.
When I was
young and there were five of us,
all running riot to my mother’s quiet despair,
our old enamel tub, age-stained and pocked
upon its griffin claws, was never full.
Such plenty was too dear in our expanse of drought
where dams leaked dry and windmills stalled.
Like Mommy’s smile. Her lips stretched back
and anchored down, in anger at some fault –
of mine, I thought – not knowing then
it was a clasp to keep us all from chaos.
She saw it always, snapping locks and straps,
the spilling: sums and worries, shopping lists
for aspirin, porridge, petrol, bread.
Even the toilet paper counted,
and each month was weeks too long.
Her mouth a lid clamped hard on this.
We thought her mean. Skipped chores,
swiped biscuits – best of all
when she was out of earshot
stole another precious inch
up to our chests, such lovely sin,
lolling luxuriant in secret warmth
disgorged from fat brass taps,
our old compliant co-conspirators.
Now bubbles lap my chin. I am a sybarite.
The shower’s a hot cascade
and water’s plentiful, to excess, almost, here.
I leave the heating on.
And miss my scattered sisters,
all those bathroom squabbles and, at last,
my mother’s smile, loosed from the bonds
of lean, dry times and our long childhood.
Old men with
beards remind me of my father:
surplice white, a beard of blessing,
Father Christmas face.
I just can’t help but smile at them,
old rabbi daddies, walking in the street.
My dad will tip his hat at everyone
he meets – old-fashioned courtesy –
now leaning slightly on his stick.
Does he greet dark-haired daughters too,
with just a touch of extra love?
Come to this city then and see me weave
among the crowds that beat
these concrete pavements every day.
(You’ll never have the time to greet them all,
these urgent hurriers.)
But tap-tap slowly to the kerb, hold up your staff
against the iron roar, and when the wood leaps
in your hand, strike at the tar.
There’ll be a stillness as the faultline fissures
deeper than the Underground.
The engines stop, the hush reminding us
of history and grace.
The clear ‘good morning’ from your smiling face
settling among us like a dove.
The comfort of
clockwork and its companion chimes.
The sweetness of envelopes. A world of rhyme and reason,
even faith. A world where there is always time,
kept Greenwich-style or not. The long-lost art
of greetings in the street. Of touch
divisible from sex. To run for pleasure,
not from fear or anxiousness, but for the heat
of muscles stretched, the beat of the exultant heart.
A place where prayer is common. Usual, shared.
The corner shop where they all know your name.
The joys of slowness, care. Embroidery,
thick-syruped pears in their preserving jars
stacked three rows deep. A hard day’s honest work,
then sleep, and waking, ready for the next.
Peace. Heartsease. Rest.
Isobel Dixon 2005-09
There’s no telling what
will make the heart leap, frog-
like, landing with a soggy plop.
Love startles, makes a mockery
of us, and yet we lie awake
at night and croak and croak for it.
(I Want) Something to Show for It
I’m not the
kind who treasures
love notes in the sand, laid bare
for the lobstered swimsuit mob
to stare at, for the tide to lick
away. I want a token,
solid, in my hand. Something
with staying power, not easily lost
or broken. Do you understand?
You murmur, puzzled by my greed,
“What is it that you want a thing
to show for, anyway?” You may
well ask. It’s just a zero,
universal emptiness. It
brings forth nothing except need,
and the truth is, souvenirs
won’t do the trick: no poseur
snaps, no neat, insipid
diaries, no sickly rock,
unusual pebbles, musty shells. I want
the shining cliffs, the posh hotel,
the whole shebang. The waiters
running across emerald lawns,
their heavy silver platters
raised in skilful hands. I want
the tacky postcard carousels,
the smugly clinking tills, the dumpy
women sweating at their counters
every summer, summer-long,
as well. I want their oily husbands
grinning now from ear to ear -
I am the sea come to swallow the pier.
My walls grow
fur, plush velveteen.
Come, brush your palms down my lush passageway.
The fridge hums greenly. Om. A mossy stone.
No chrome, no gloss. Soft emerald coat,
inside, a crystal frost. Such sprouting surfaces.
Footsteps are muffled here. Take off your shoes.
Walk softly. Let the nap and pile of unswept floors caress your feet.
It’s only human, dust. A drift of it, snow settling, pollenfall.
My razorblade blunts quietly, rust blossoms on its edge.
My armpits lose their line, grow dark and tender foliage.
The body’s smoothness shadowed, all angles made diffuse.
I am a slow, warm creature in a secret house.
The white facade blinks at the sun.
My forests sway.
Come in, there is no spirit level here.
Days of Miracle and Wonder
The grass is full of codes.
The signs are everywhere:
used condom, apple core, a baby’s sock.
You might suppose this is just rubbish
left by lovers, picknickers, and last night’s yobs
but I know better:
objects in your path are never
without some significance.
A trail of crumbs, a rusty lamp, a shiny bean –
you must be quick to recognise the hand of fate
and so I’m walking clockwise
round the Common, seven times seven
before the dawn, deciphering;
hoping the crumpled Irn Bru tin,
the globe of shiny foil,
the punctuation of the smoked-down stubs
(each one uniquely marked)
will open up the world and its great mystery to me.
For if the mountains are proclaiming glory
but they can’t be seen
what is it that the scattered litter here is whispering?
Email from Bhopal
Local breast milk has become toxic.
Nineteen monsoons have washed the chemicals
into the wells. The jungle tugs
at Union Carbide’s rusting pipes.
The men in suits have fled.
People now believe that ghosts flit
through the creeper shadow, climb the scree
of fallen carbaryl. Here, a spirit
would walk, restlessly. Here the people wait
for the invisible, inexorcisable,
to manifest itself in their own blood.
Isobel Dixon 2005-09