Writer’s Block

This box, this block
These four walls trapping my fingers
Around this pen
This paper, dull and blank
This space between ink and page
This cage: my imagination
This voice: a whisper, mumbling ideas
The knowledge behind bars
This prison I feel but cannot express
This ache in need of relief
This scream subdued by preoccupied hands
This stage of in-between
This no-man’s-land I’m in
This wish to find the best words
This longing for letters, pages, books – fulfilled
This box, this block
This writer’s block
This poem
This word
This pen

(Jana Ferreira, 2012)

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The Bird In The Tree

I came to a stop near a bird in a tree.
She was pecking the bark for a bug.
I called her Estelle, God only knows why
For she’ll have the same fate as her slug.

I arrived at the gate where a pig snorted at me.
He was rolling in a splash of mud.
Just when a lonely tear fell from my cheek,
On his brow, there was a line of blood.

Bird, what song might you sing if I chase you
Before your fate is set?
And poor pig, I think I’d have called you Pete,
Soon you’re just bacon for baguettes.

I went to my room to write a letter to Dad,
Saying please let’s rather eat cabbage.
For my heart cannot take the pig’s fearful cries
So, I’ll gladly give up the sausage.

I heard Estelle whistle high in her tree,
But arrived to see it was another.
I held my breath in the hope she was free,
Only to see the slaughter of her brother.

My tears became heavy and rose dust as they fell
In the graveyard of the dead bird.
My letter wouldn’t change any damn thing
Inside the pot on the stove being stirred.

We sat down to eat that still August night,
But my plate remained untouched.
When Mom asked me why I wasn’t digging in
All I said was I’d eaten too much.

The forks were put down and the bones sucked dry
Before I opened my mouth to speak.
I told them that eating the bird made me sad
And that cooked pig’s meat did reek.

Of course, there were laughs all around and ringing
Through the walls of our home.
The only ones not finding it funny were me and
Estelle’s husband outside on her tomb.

I went to my room to find my letter still there;
Then at once, I shred it apart.
I’d have to make peace that no one in my family,
But me, has a warm and caring heart.

Now I am under a tree singing my song to the bird
Who replies in a cheerful tweet.
But what saddens me still and remains to be true
Is with mash they will serve him to eat.

I walk to the piglets in their sty far from danger
Where I whisper to them warnings of death.
They’ve got to fatten up before the butcher comes
To take their last squealing breaths.

There’s only one hope in telling this tale.
It’s that we should take time to listen
To the song of the bird and the grunt of the pig
That cause our wee eyes to glisten.

If a tear can fall over the carcass of a pig
And we may feel a pang of regret
When we suck our fingers shining in fat,
Then there is hope for the animals yet.

(Jana Ferreira, 2015)

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I’m Too Tired

I’m too tired to write a poem.
My eyelids are sinkers fixed to a line
tossed into a subconscious sea

where I’ll hook the remnant of last
night’s dream. I was in a maze with the
ship’s lull and everyone I’d ever loved

wasn’t there. A Ferris wheel flung me
overboard into the bottomless deep of
waking up to the smell of coffee. Now

I set my bait for the catch again; settling
in with blanket to my chin, watching my
own fingers bounce from black pebble to

pebble on a keyboard. My arms flop fish-like
almost still alive by my sides. I was in
time and out of time with writing, but

out of sense and out of vision in an underwater
dreamscape crawled to shore, still
choking on actuality. Where the coastline met

letters on black pebbles to shape words
to shape language, I find myself writing a
poem about not being able to write a poem,

because my eyelids are sinkers fixed to a line
tossed into a subconscious sea
where I’m about to hook a fresh dream.

(Jana Ferreira, 2015)

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There’s Always A But

There was a crack in the earth just then
when you opened your lips
to tell me the truth for once.

You’ve been hiding behind someone
I recognize, but don’t recall meeting.
A dusty cranium: cobwebs need sweeping.

I decompress with ice clinking in a glass
of wine on my knee,
making kaleidoscope eyes at the ants

crawling behind the greenery.
Something has changed in the colour of the grass
or the colour of your eyes,

because grey most certainly isn’t green
and flowers don’t smell like Listerine.
Unless you’ve been washing my taste away

to mask the mistakes we’ve been tripping over:
a flooded hole you don’t see on a stormy day.
The earth opened and closed to spit me out

as backs were turned and your shadow cast,
asking me what it is I want. The game was lost,
neither of us could have won. But

underneath a crusted scab lies
the essence of life, the beauty in healing,
the heart that can’t, just won’t stop beating.

(Jana Ferreira, 2015)

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The Golden Hour

The day is on its back, but not quite asleep just yet.
A silk net catches the last rays
As an eight-legged ick nears its winged prisoner
And beaks above chatter their goodbyes for now.
A crisp air hugs the horizon closer
As the sun’s hair falls gently golden
On her rocky shoulders, preparing for hypnosis.

A slither of moon escapes and casts his line outward
Onto a single fallen fireball: drawing closer
Venus sings her lullaby as mosquitos yawn awake.
She wears a crown of silver mist
As flirts flicker to mortal eyes on Earth’s pink crust.
The day slips into a dream as Venus beckons
Her choir of silver siblings to accompany
Once more the night’s moonlight sonata.

(Jana Ferreira, 2016)

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If You’ve Got A Coin

If you’ve got a coin you might carelessly
toss it in the cup holder without a cup
to give to a humble guy who washes your windscreen
at the petrol station.
Or you might slip it into the tight back pocket
of a new pair of jeans to listen to it clink in rotation
when you forget to take it out again before
putting your pants in the washing machine.

Or you might keep it in a jar with
a bunch of other browner coins with
green residue rubbing off on clean fingers when
diving for cigarette money on a desperate day.
Or you might add to the weight of the
already-too-heavy side section of your purse,
only to empty it all onto a counter in a coffee shop
where everything costs more than just a few coins.

But that one time someone needs a coin from you,
you might not have one in the empty cup holder
or you’re not wearing those tight jeans,
or you haven’t emptied the jar at home in a while,
or your always-too-heavy side section of your purse
has just been emptied on a counter in a coffee shop
where everything costs more than a few coins
and now you’re left telling someone who needs just one coin:
“Sorry, I don’t have any money.”

(Jana Ferreira, 2016)

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When I Write

There’s no meadow I look out on
and think: that there, I want to explore!
But not with my feet, no rather
with a mess of lines ink-spilt on
a clear sea of white paper.
There’s not a time or place I visit in my mind
thinking I need to escape this
reality. No, I simply slip through a hole in thought
and gently grasp a pipe filled with possibilities
that will later start to burn an ache
into my middle finger as time flips the NOS switch
and my mind races to the finish before
the words flop from clumsy fingers to be left
as a legacy of thoughts thought by
Jana Ferreira.
There’s no daydream more awake than
the ones in the heaps of notebooks I fill
so they may be advertised in my living room
as time capsules from the mind
of a possible future genius.
But then there is also this:
the small chance that what I’m doing
is utter shit.

(Jana Ferreira, 2015)

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Out Of Breath

The sun bakes sweat on my skin
where your imprint lays dormant.
My breath is short and ticks
in my chest: a rhythm
out of balance with my feet.

I close mine to meet with your eyes.
A vision of your mouth without a smile
unearths the darkness hidden under
the soft coating of a tongue,
pulsing in time when we kiss again.

My heart thumps thickets
wild and unruly. That ache,
much like the stitch in my side, reminds
of a life withering within
my fleeing carcass on the tarmac.

I weed through your lies
until I cross a road I don’t know
and find I am turned around, going home.
All in the hope of recapturing
the breath I lost while running here to you.

(Jana Ferreira, 2015)

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Walking Home

Around me, there is only dark brown and green.

I widen my eyes to find more light, but the stars are behind grey masses in the sky. There is only a familiar sound, telling me to follow it slowly.

It crunches beneath my shoes. It crackles when I find larger leaves and my foot buckles over small, deformed rocks.

I steadily trod on the dusty pathway until my eyes adjust and I see a familiar branch greeting me welcome home. It waves in the summer air, dangling fragile dead leaves as charms before me.

I look only at my feet now, careful not to make contact with a boulder on the pathway’s bend. My shoulders contract when I see a spider turning under my foot.

My legs lift in a gallop as I scurry unwary of further obstacles towards my safe haven. It might only have been a dead leaf or a twig, but the eye deceives the mind and the mind deceives the body into convulsions of fear. That resting beat returns when the light finds my eyes.

A neighbour’s clambering in the kitchen reminds me that I am not alone in this wilderness.

My hands feel for the key that will bring me shelter. It is rough and cool on my fingers and slots in perfectly in the darkness. My body has memorized where to find the keyhole, it seems.

The door knocks open, the underside not connected to the top.

I feel it is too loud and that I am waking someone, but close it hastily behind me, knocking wood on wood once more. 


A liberal take on pantoum

She reached out an arm to gift me a pear
as I sat cross-legged, my hands turned to my back.
Her hair wasn’t yellow, but some would say
it was the only shade a rainbow might lack.

As I sat cross-legged, throwing my hand towards her gift
her nose crinkled at the bridge in a smile.
It was the only thing missing from Mona Lisa
that could have made the museum trip more worthwhile.

Her nose then smoothed at the bridge suddenly
to show her ambiguous side I suppose.
What could have made a trip to the farm more worthwhile?
Maybe when her hem reaches her chin if the wind blows.

To show her my own ambiguous side, I turn
my face towards the shade and blow a kiss.
Maybe she’ll think it’s for the worms underground or
when we walk back home she’ll still ponder on this.

With my face towards the shade, she can’t catch my kiss,
but her hair wasn’t yellow and some would often say
when we walk back home she’ll still ponder on this:
Why she reached out her arm when I already had a pear earlier that day.

(Jana Ferreira, 2015)

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My Garden

There are roosluise crawling out of the centres of my almost mature rosebuds. They scurry in and out as if taunting me in a triumphant dance. I haven’t yet had the courage to tell Adriaan there won’t be roses in the house this month. I’m going to have to cut all of them down to their stems to be sure. 

Earlier tonight Wilmar walked up to the house for supper to congratulate me and Adriaan on the news. I told them the food was too rich and that it made me feel sick before I went into the garden. I sat under my peach tree, cross-legged like I used to when I was a little girl in Mas garden. I heard my fygies whispering to the kappertjies and leeubekkies that change is unavoidable. The wind rustled their petite faces and folded them in half. I lifted my dress and peered at the folded belly underneath. It’s not too round yet, but it’s not soft like it used to be. The moon was climbing over Wilmar’s rooftop in the distance. 

I lay back with my head on the hard ground. Little rocks poked my skull and memories trickled through the cracks it made. I remembered coming to Rustoord. I remembered falling in love with Adriaan. But mostly I remembered the dirt under my nails that tasted of bitter earth when I cleaned it out with my teeth, and the smell of jasmine before I became used to smelling it every day, and planting my baby peach tree when it was only as tall as me.

I rocked myself upright when the moon was almost at the edge of the mountain where the sheep lay huddled together. Adriaan and Wilmar were probably worried about me by now. I fingered the threads of grass between my thumb and forefinger, polishing each leaf I could find as I sat waiting for the blood to flow from my head to my legs. I could see the two brothers sitting in the lounge through our sheer curtains. Adriaan with his cup of sweet rooibos tea and Wilmar with his glass of neat whiskey. I remember seeing them like that before we got married. I think back to that day often now – ever since those roosluise appeared. 

I met Adriaan at a rugby game. He was cheering for his brother who played flank. Wilmar was fast and tall and had knopkierie knees but was built like an ox. Adriaan was lean and tender looking but always upright with his hands in his hair or over his mouth as if screaming next to a rugby field was an act of embarrassing barbarism. I watched him get excited and then turn to look if someone saw him jump. Then he would fix his shirt into his jeans, clap his hands clumsily and say, “Come on boys” to himself. Wilmar approached me after the game and asked if we could go dancing. I said yes. He picked me up in a Ford and brought me a quaint bundle of daisies he had obviously picked from his mother’s garden. I tried to fall in love with him, but he smelled of Pa’s aftershave and wanted to kiss me even when I pulled away. 

The next time I saw Wilmar, Adriaan was driving the car. I climbed in next to him and he turned his head and smiled at me, teeth and all. My heart blossomed from a shut bud and spilt rose petals up my throat and into my mouth; making it so dry I couldn’t say a word. I think Wilmar could smell the petals. He told Adriaan to take me for a drive. He had a surprise for me later that morning. Adriaan and I drove to his uncle’s farm. He stopped the car on a koppie overlooking a winding river that disappeared on the horizon. I swallowed hard until all the petals were back in my stomach and we spoke for what felt like a season. I don’t remember having ever talked about so many insignificant details with anyone, not even my best friend Marie. But no matter how small the words or their meanings, each sentence shared was one love song that melted into the next. He held my hand as we drove home. It was almost tea time and we’d forgotten about Wilmar waiting for us. Wilmar had walked home sourly after waiting for me all morning, my mother told me that afternoon. 

Three months later I knew Adriaan was going to ask me to marry him. I sat in his parents’ garden on a tree stump looking at him and Wilmar in the kitchen. I think Wilmar cried because Adriaan took his shaking glass of whiskey from his hand and propped it on the windowsill. He held Wilmar to his chest as gently as only Adriaan could. I should have felt sorry for him or at least a little guilty, but I knew this meant that Adriaan loved me as I loved him. 

I got up from my grassy seat; my dress damp with soil and entered the living room where Wilmar and Adriaan sat talking about someone I didn’t know. I sat beside Adriaan on the armrest of his chair, my dress covering his knees like a blanket. His lips touched my cheek as Wilmar said, “It’s getting late. Congratulations again. I’d better get to bed.” Wilmar got up so suddenly that he knocked a porcelain figurine from the side table where he plonked his glass without looking. 

“Sorry, sorry!” he said as he bent down to pick up the pieces. I couldn’t watch. Just last autumn I carefully packed that very frog figurine away to save it from little clumsy hands, and now big clumsy hands have broken it anyway.

Last autumn, Adriaan’s sister and her husband came to visit us on the farm. His sister has two children. I have always been fond of Estelle and her husband Johannes. Estelle and I sat under the peach tree most afternoons, collecting fallen leaves on our laps while drinking tea, and in the evenings we watched soapies together. Johannes complimented my cooking and the smell of fresh flowers in their room each morning, which I was glad to hear from someone who wasn’t my husband for a change. Their children on the other hand were messy little things that left marks on any and all reachable surfaces with their sticky fingers, including Adriaan’s books. The little one screamed at night, as though sleep would come to those who disturb others’ sleep and she refused to eat when her mother told her to, turning her ugly little face from side to side in obstinate negation. The other one was rounder and more likeable because he didn’t cry as often anymore. But I had to put my ornaments away before they came because I was warned he might break things. I was constantly on the lookout. For a week I couldn’t leave my garden unguarded because he would run through my pappawers like a klipspringer. He plucked my daisies roots and all, clutching them into balls in his fists and throwing them down on the ground behind the bakkie when he jumped on the back, begging Adriaan to take him to the sheep. I told him not to touch my flowers as I squeezed his shoulder just there where I know it’s tender enough to get my point across. He ran screaming to his mother in the kitchen. Estelle wasn’t happy and asked me to be gentler with her children. I couldn’t believe it; after all, it was her little brats who ran around wrecking my garden and soiling my home. I still don’t know why she didn’t leave them with their ouma. Their visit would have been far more pleasant. 

I dreamt of the lice tonight. They were crawling around on rose petals. But the petals weren’t attached to the stems of my roses in the garden. They were scattered about, floating in a dark cave, as if hanging from invisible vines. I tried to make out where the lice were coming from, feeling like I was blinking my eyes towards the sun. The space was dark red and throbbing like a heart. But it wasn’t a heart. It was my stomach in which these lice were scurrying, eating away at the petals inside of me. I opened my eyes and saw that the window was open so I reached over to find a candle, but my hand was heavy with the pulse of blood. I saw a light in the distance – probably Wilmar’s. 

I could not lie still anymore, even though Adriaan insisted I should rest more frequently now. But I needed to do something about the lice; they would keep me up all night if I didn’t. As I was about to open the front door, I found myself searching for something in Adriaan’s bookshelf. Behind Kunstige Tuine there was a black leather casing calling for me to finger it. That old familiar feeling of reading before bed as a child befell me and I couldn’t help but pull the dusty book from the shelf. It had Die Bybel written in faded gold on the front cover. I flicked it open and inside I found a pressed flower – a daisy. I clutched it in my hand, feeling the petals crunch and left the book on the table beside the door as I exited. 

I have in the one hand my garden shears with which I am going to destroy the lice once and for all. In the other, there are crumbs stuck to my sweaty palms – the remnants of a pressed flower given to me by a man I don’t love. I stand before my rows of picturesque roses, my dear children. I see the stars gleaming specs of light on the edges of the petals and watch them ignite as clouds pass away from the moon. I see them smile at me, each face differently folded but equally adored. I look them in the eyes, each and every one and in a promise, I lift my silk nightdress up to my chin with my flower-powdered hand. I tell them, “Alles gaan piekfyn wees” and press the cold steel blade on my inner thigh. Adrenaline ruptures into full bloom and I feel the petals rising from my stomach as I did that day in the car with Adriaan. The shears prod me open and the hollow between my legs swallow them until I can release my fingers from the rounded end and lie down on my side. My roses are horizontal flags calling “Victory!”

I can feel a frown on my face as I contract against the thudding ache. It is not like the pain from stubbing my toe on a rock or accidentally poisoning my finger with a rose thorn. It is a deafening discomfort that lurks deep beneath the surface. Could it be worse than giving birth? The pulse of my heart becomes a wrench with which each turn opens a tap so more blood can rush southbound. The ache just below my stomach causes me to roll from side to side in a shiver. 

I wait for the moon to pass my peach tree and lift my hand from the wet grass. I see only black now because my eyes have shut and my lids are too heavy to lift, but I can feel my hands tremble in the midnight air. I make contact with my skin and the excretion of the pest from my belly. The roosluis inside me feels both rough and slimy as though I’ve been rinsing clothes and my fingertips are wrinkled. When I pinch my fingers together, I don’t feel skin on skin. It is only wet.

I feel my cheeks bundle in a smile because I know my hand is covered in red – the most beautiful red like my roses when there are no white specs of lice.

Making Hate

Let me put on a show for you. 
Let me show you my soul so you can show me yours.
Let me light your fire so you can burn your fingertips.

“I don’t love you anymore,” she whispered as soon as she was sure he was sleeping, before turning her bedside lamp out and curling up next to him.

“I don’t love you either,” he yawned as he rose at 7 am the next morning, sure that she was in the shower and that the water would muffle his words. 

“I burned your toast on purpose,” she sang with the song on the radio as he was washing his breakfast plate.

“I washed the dishes with cold water so you’ll have to wash them all over again as soon as I’m gone,” he waved from his soundproof car interior. 

“I threw your favorite tie in the dryer so it would get ruined,” she giggled as she hung up the phone after he called to make sure she remembered to pay the electrical bill.

“I picture the new intern at the office every time we screw,” he thought as he turned to his computer after talking with her on the phone.

“I hope you’re wearing those brown corduroy pants so I can tell you that you need to lose weight,” he said as he got into his car to go home from work. 

“I wish you crashed your car on the way home, so the insurance would pay out to me,” she whistled while taking his coat from him and hooking it on the rack.

“I’m sleeping with someone else,” he sneezed as she over-peppered his steak at dinnertime.

“I never liked your parents and I wish your sister would die slowly and painfully of cancer,” she hissed as he rose to go to the living room, leaving her to clear the table and wash the dishes.

“I only married you because you were great in the sack,” he grunted as he lounged into the sofa.

“I want a divorce,” she caressed into his shoulders while watching TV together. 

“I hate the way you smell,” he smirked as they brushed their teeth side by side before getting into bed.

“I love you, honey.”

“I love you too, baby.”

They kissed, lingered, then kissed again, turned the lights out and rolled over to find one another in the dark. They edged towards the warmth of the other’s body, finding the perfect combination of crevice and protrusion to fit like puzzle pieces. They made love quietly but fiercely and fell asleep cradling one another in the smell of sweat and utter repulsion.

5 Things I Wish I Knew When I Was A Jr. Copywriter

My skills are constantly evolving as I mature and progress in my career, but there are certain things I wish I knew back when I was a Jr. Copywriter. Here are five of them.

1. Being clever is not always cute

Every writer gets that tingly feeling when they’ve coined a new metaphor or written a headline with amazing alliteration. But not every reader enjoys having to think twice before grasping a concept.

I once worked with someone who was obsessed with “clever copy”, as he called it.

If I would write a poster headline that stated, “Win a NEW car!” he would scoff and say, “Isn’t there a clever way you can say that?” I would revert with something like “Win a va-va-vroom prize!” and he’d eat it up.

When it came time to test the headlines to find out how many people would enter the competition, it turned out that people preferred to know exactly what the poster was all about by just reading the headline.

Straight-forward copy wins more times than not.

Naturally, there are exceptions to this rule, but keep this in mind: just because you or your colleagues like a certain line of copy doesn’t mean it is conversion-friendly or that your audience will resonate with it. They’re not writers; they’re shoppers (or whatever the case may be).

2. Writing and editing are different skills

Don’t edit while you’re writing!

Trust me, you will miss little things because you’ll read past previously unspotted mistakes when you start to edit. This is because you’ve amended the same paragraph twenty times already.

Write the first draft from start to finish with no heavy editing. Then get up and make a cup of tea, go stroke your cat, open up social media; do anything else for five minutes before sitting down to edit your text.

The reason for the break is to get your mindset to shift from being a writer to being an editor.

Your focus needs to adjust because you will not be thinking about the content when editing, you’re going to be thinking about the quality of the content, your writing, and whether you’re getting the point across in the best manner.

3. Criticism is your friend

You need to develop a thick skin as a writer. Instead of being offended, you must remain open-minded.

That is not to say all criticism will be righteous. There will be times when you will need to defend your ideas. However, learning to turn a critique into capital that you can leverage to improve your writing is crucial, and quite powerful.

Some of my best work resulted from changes I made after a friend, colleague or parent gave me feedback – changes I would never have made on my own.

At the end of the day, you’re writing for other people, not just yourself. So, listen to what people have to say. But remember, you don’t always need to act on it.

4. There is no shame in using tools

In the beginning, I was determined to become a complete English savant in terms of spelling, grammar, vocabulary, style, form, everything.

I have since learned that although it is humanly possible to become an excellent linguist, it’s not a prerequisite to being considered a talented writer.

There are valuable online tools that have made me a far better writer, and which I continue to use daily.

I’ll write about all my favourite tools in a later post. Here are a few must-haves for anyone, writers or not: Grammarly or ProWritingAid, Power Thesaurus, and Hemingway Editor.

Use every tool at your disposal to improve your researching, writing, editing, marketing, or any other skills you need. It’s not a sign of weakness by any means.

5. Rather move a deadline than deliver crappy work

I am a real stickler for deadlines. But with tight deadlines come loose standards.

It is important that you are honest with yourself and your colleagues about the amount of time you need to complete a project to the best of your ability.

When you have the luxury of time, you have the luxury of change.

That means you have enough time to think, adapt your ideas, talk to others and brainstorm, experiment with a few rough drafts, edit as needed, and deliver something great.

But when you don’t have enough time, stress levels increase, brainstorming goes out the window and your first two or three ideas are the only ones that will see the light of day. Proper editing will take a back-burner and you will end up with something that’s just okay.

If possible, rather extend a deadline than settle for the result of a rushed job.

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