“Lamb” by Isobel Dixon

deathbed ram
Image by Dawn Estrin

We left him sleeping peaceful in the night
but they have tied him down, bony wrists
wrapped in a sheepskin cuff, lashed tightly to the rail.

He was fierce after we left, they say:
shouting, tearing at the drip. Hard to believe it
of this gentle man, but this morning,

unbound for the time we’re there, he cavils,
clawing at the needle in his arm, moaning
and stubborn, baring his teeth at us

when we refuse. I stroke his fettered hand,
his paper forehead, murmur comfort,
courage, anything. He shakes me off, tossing

his head, red-eyed, an angry ram. Ha!
I must remember who I am: his child,
just a child, why do I question him?

So I hold my tongue, but stay. Lift up the cup,
with its candy-striped concertina straw,
to his splintered lip and he, in resignation, sucks.

Yes, we make a meagre congregation, father,
disobedient. The flesh, indeed, is weak.
Still, remembered echoes of his sermons come:

a promised child, the tangled ram, the sheep-clothed son;
last-minute rescues, legacies, and lies.
The promised and the chosen, certain hopes.

How, from these stories are we to be wise?
His word was clear and sure before, but now
his raging, rambling, shakes this listener’s heart.

And yet, to be here, of some small use,
is a kind of peace. Three spoons of food,
oil for his hands, his feet. Then at last,
at last, returning to gentleness, he sleeps.

 

 

Isobel Dixon grew up in South Africa, where her prize-winning debut Weather Eye was published. Her poems have appeared in The Paris Review, Financial Times, The Guardian, The Manhattan Review, Southwest Review, Magma, Succour and Wasafiri, among others. She has been commissioned to write poems for the British Film Institute, and her work is included in several anthologies, including Penguin’s Poems for Love and The Forward Book of Poetry 2009. Her latest collection A Fold in the Map is published by Salt. Her next collection, The Tempest Prognosticator, comes out from Salt next year. www.isobeldixon.com Lamb taken from A Fold in the Map, ©2007, (UK: Salt; SA: Jacana), Reprinted with permission.

 

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