Explaining Magnetism (1991)

Maura Dooley

Oxford English Dictionary (OED) Links On

Isolated here in the South, fiddling with British Rail
network charts, inhabiting the Underground plan, I learn
again how West means left and East means right.
I used to know that North was always straight ahead,
every map showed that cardinal point, a long feathered
arrow, a capital N. Whichever way I walked the land
restored itself in my own order: true North.

A compass only confused, school got in the way,
pointing at things you couldn’t see,
explaining magnetism. In order to find out
I just went straight ahead and up there,
out of sight, was never isolated but isolate.
Down here, we move as one and jump like hamsters,
onto the Circle line. The names don’t help much,
recalling that dull board game and me,

broke again, moving a top hat listlessly,
back and forth, left to right, round and round.

Learn more about the language of this poem in the
Oxford English Dictionary:

cardinal