She Comes Swimming

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 on 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.


from A Fold in the Map (Salt/Jacana 2007)), © Isobel Dixon 2007, used by permission of the author

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