The Leonids, Isobel Dixon
Mariscat Press, 2016 £6.00
The Shaking Out and Showering of Grief
Most of us, one day, face the decline and eventual loss of our parents. Isobel Dixon’s The Leonids chronicles her mother’s final days while also embracing the earlier loss of the poet’s father. Dixon writes with a musicality that carries us through these experiences. She doesn’t hide her sadness; she records it, in poems of vivid, stencilled memory. The pamphlet serves as a memorial to one particular family, then – and is set vividly against a sumptuous South African backcloth – but it could also work as a kind-of template for this much-shared experience.
There seem to me recurring images that help to chart a course. The Leonids itself, of course, is a meteor shower: ‘the glorious rippling fall’. But the poet is also showered – at this time of loss, or losing – in memories. The following lines are drawn from ‘My mother spills the pins’:
and then the bobbin’s blunt refusal at the gate
the static sputters from the dud machine
the thread snarls up
my mother gasps and cries out
and the pins
the pins fly through the air
rain down on me
The idea of ‘shaking’ is another that recurs. Of course, this verb – to shake – carries its own connotations: we shake in sorrow and shock. And there is distress here, in some of these memories. In ‘The Visit’, one sister recalls a childhood experience of visiting their ‘troubled’ mother, who wasn’t well, ‘in a high-verandah house’. ‘Bruised stems and shaken pollen, still adrift’, Isobel Dixon writes.
But then, in ‘Carbon’, the poet wakes from a disturbing dream, ‘trying to shake the naked sense / of everything upside down’. And the wonderful poem ‘Grasshopper’ – which marks ‘the night’s huge work’, I think, of her father’s passing – begins:
I catch the cloth’s four corners, shake our crumbs
out to the night.
This perhaps is the shaking that’s needed – a shaking out – before these experiences can be folded away and stored.