‘Matsephe’s Dance’, a new poem by Isobel Dixon

The Johannesburg Review of Books presents new poetry by Isobel Dixon.


Matsephe’s Dance

It’s the dancing and the laughter
I remember most—
the clear, sweet stream of it,
ripples of the unbound self,
pure ways of letting go.

That particular shy way
you had in everything:
the way you stepped into a room,
looking for friends,
looking out for them,

but how often you hid
your own face, giggling
like a girl behind your hand,
shielding the lamp
of our attention from your eyes.

Never proud, but in your boys,
that robust joy—not just
how motherhood was stitched
into your name. A teacher’s heart,
and fierce in mothering;

both wise and girlish in your ways.
And I wish we were still hiding,
stifling laughs, behind a door,
waiting to leap out
with the great hurrah, Surprise!

You always loved a party,
better yet if dancing came of it.
And how we danced!
The one time you’d be happy
to take centre stage.

And here again words fail the music
and the moves, that ease
and bliss its own philosophy.
I think of you, fully free
of this heavy world,

high in a mountain kingdom
of your own.
My shy klipspringer friend,
poised on a sunlit outcrop—
delicate-hoofed, your quiet

watchfulness, the sureness
of your leaping.
Eye and heart follow you up,
a supple shape, beyond our reach,
from rock to rock,

till the time of our next meeting.
Sister, I’ll arrive—again, Surprise!
and say, Hey, look!
I have been practising
that shoulder-shimmy thing so long.

You’ll watch me, laugh,
and cover up your eyes
at my white awkwardness,
then step out like a queen
and show me how it’s really done.

i.m. Matsephe Letseka, 8 August 196125 September 2018

Previously unpublished, © Isobel Dixon, 2020

  • Isobel Dixon’s fourth collection, Bearings, was published by Modjaji in South Africa and Nine Arches in the UK. Nine Arches have also re-issued her earlier collections, A Fold in the Map (SA: Jacana) and The Tempest Prognosticator. Nine Arches will publish The Landing in 2021. She is currently working on a collaborative project, A Whistling of Birds, inspired by DH Lawrence’s nature poetry.
Header image: Tyler Duston on Unsplash

The JRB Poetry Editor is Rustum Kozain

4 thoughts on “‘Matsephe’s Dance’, a new poem by Isobel Dixon”

  1. Oh wow! That is my sister in law you wrote about. Yes, you knew her, shy as she was whenever we had a family do at my house she would lead us I a South African step dance (Codesa) . This poem is so surreal, I actually saw her in my soul while reading ‘ Matshepe’s Dance’

  2. Thank you Isobel for reminding us of our dancing Matsephe, who truly came alive on the dance floor. To most she was a quiet and reserved person, but to us who were privileged to witness her transformation on the dance floor, she will always be our “queen who showed us how it should be done”.

  3. Dear Isobel, as I mentioned in my e-mail, this is such a profoundly emotional feeling for me. Thank for such a thoughtful peace of creative arts about ‘Matsephe. I shall forever cherish this poem.

  4. Thank you Isobel for keeping Matsepe’s memories alive.

    She was indeed the Queen of dance floor.
    I have seen her dance. We have danced together. She was great.

    May her soul rest in peace.

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