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Isobel Dixon
Isobel Dixon

Isobel Dixon was born in Mthatha and grew up in Graaff-Reinet, in South Africa’s Eastern Cape region. Her collections The Tempest Prognosticator and A Fold in the Map are published by Salt. Her work is featured in Birdbook I, Coin Opera II and Psycho Poetica (all published by Sidekick), Penguin’s Poems for Love and Salt’s Best of British Poetry 2011. She co-wrote and performed in The Debris Field: Salvaging the Titanic in Word, Sound & Image (Sidekick Books, 2013) and is currently working with Scottish artist Douglas Robertson on a project linked to D. H Lawrence’s Birds, Beasts & Flowers. She works in publishing in London.

Photo: Jo Kearney

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Isobel Dixon Poetry

Truths & Reconciliations

Pragmatic whitewash,
rainbow complacencies,
the miracles forgot –
but would you forgive the man
who made your father blind?
No single hand put out those eyes,
no blade or burning brand –
but you knew there was an Island,
though you never thought
of the detail at the time:
the slow and bitter years,
the chipped-out days,
the worn-down line of men
bent in the burning sun
to the glitter of the lime.



First published in 'Thoughts on Robben Island', The Island Review, June 2013.

Setting Up Experiments


I have forgotten the Periodic Table of the Elements,

apart from the famous few

and the look of the waxy scroll of text

unfurled against the science lab’s wall,

Earth’s Ten Commandments graphed in code.

I went with my father in the night as a little girl,

when he was setting up experiments,

sat long and studied it, in fascinated ignorance.


And I have forgotten basic chemistry,

apart from the dancing fizz of phosphorus

and the day my father’s sulphurous show and tell

expelled him and the Standard Nines, out

to the quad in search of air. The same quad where

I watched the senior girls rehearse their witchiness

around mysterious brew – their fire burn

and cauldron bubble scorched into my brain.


Goniwe, like my father, taught, not far away,

but then I didn’t know his name; Cradock

just another dusty settlement, minor satellite

to our own, all unrest pressed out to the margins –

his Lingelihle, our Umasizakhe stirring up

a history not taught in my calm classrooms.

And he was sent to prison in the town

where I was born, the Communist suppressed


and then so inconveniently returned.

I have forgotten, if I ever read,

what the Eastern Province Herald said

about their disappearances – Sparrow Mkhonto,

Fort Calata, Sicelo Mhlauli, Matthew Goniwe,

the Cradock Four. If they printed anything at all

until their permanent removal from society

(that terrible permission from on high) was clear.


Who thought to bring the telephone wire?

(Strangled, stabbed and shot – so dangerous

they needed all three types of violence?)

Who poured the petrol on each face

to sear away the individual flesh?

What did they talk of while the bodies burned?

And which one cut off Matthew’s hands?

What calculation was this and what settled score?


In the lab, my father readied for his class;

I watched Lady Macbeth try to erase the marks.

But I drive now with those men, Olifantshoek

to Bluewater Bay – the threatening

and the defiant, frightened for their lives.

That road, the darkest pass. These are the nights

we’ve no will to recall, but must, how

something evil always in among us was.



In memory of Matthew Goniwe, Sparrow Mkhonto, Fort Calata & Sicelo Mhlauli



A man pushes his rubbish

juggernaut up 7th Avenue,

Melville. Cresting the rise,

then swiftly switching sides

to brake – his shoulders braced –

his junk ship’s following wind,

that swift acceleration down the hill,

a slope of now-dishevelled affluence.


His mate, in Fair Isle pullover

(a find?) careens around the corner,

laden even more, merging

their flotsam fleets.

They’ve got in well before

the garbage trucks, cracking

the bins like jacaranda pods,

shucking them clean.


I  imagine the whole Heath Robinson

embarrassment of cast-off riches:

Nelson’s fractured spyglass;

Napoleon’s tattered glove;

the battered Homburg

of a fallen president; a sleek jet

fashioned in an emptied flask

of Johnnie Walker Blue;


and all the debris that’s more

usually jettisoned.

Spring efflorescence trumpets

noisy fuchsia, giant hibiscus

clamours loudly for attention,

too. A blur of sweet Bohemia.

Petal, rubble, scrap metal –

a supernova waits to blow.


Above, three mousebirds

delicately decorate the wires,

so unperturbed: Forget the barbs,

alarms, the locks, breakers

of locks, the pocket pickers,

trashbound whistlers,

raasbekke, karweiders

of the loot, these streets are ours.



Glossary, from the Afrikaans:

raasbekke – loudmouths

karweiders – lowly carriers, porters

The Secret Peach


I remember the pale peaches of Cathcartvale:

light down as of a cheek

and the wet white flesh, firm to the bite.

Sweet fibre of peach in your teeth

and the pinkening fruit at the rosy wrinkled pip.


Rarer than the golden peaches

halved and boiled and syrup-drowned,

home-bottled, seldom from the shop.

A Consol jar of peaches and a tin of Ideal Milk

for pudding after school:

peaches-and-cream of the everyday.

Aunty Anna’s jars were the ones

with the peaches all sliced up.


But the white ones we ate fresh.

The trees were in the orchard by the house,

where the hanslammetjies were kept.

Peach blossom and fattening fruit

and rescued lambs.

Soft, milky noses and remembered nectar

and a farm now lost.


Do the trees still stand? Is there someone there

who picks the fruit?


An old woman fading in a foreign land

will thirst for that particular juice,

will call out for it, searching

for the peach's proper name,

forgetting that she never knew. 



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