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The Power of Words

Eleven women write what they like for National Women's Day

Compiled by Michelle McGrane

Omen’s Day

Gabeba Baderoon

When I started writing on my computer this morning, I read over a sentence and found that “who” had turned into “ho” and “women” into “omen”. The “w” on my keyboard no longer worked. Pounding the letter didn’t help, so to correct the words, I had to cut and paste w’s from previously written documents. In an essay on women, the absence of the “w” is conspicuous.

My life is full of “w’s”. This is a Women’s Day letter of thanks to two women who, along with my mother and sisters, my best friends, my teachers, my colleagues, and the gentle, kind men in my life, make it immeasurably richer.

Mrs Nalini Vedam, 75, welcomes us into her house with grave hospitality, and we talk for an hour about universities – she has postgraduate degrees in English - family and travel. She invites us to stay for lunch. We wash our hands with the sandalwood soap she buys on annual visits to India and offer to help prepare the meal, but she does everything so efficiently that we are of most use when we are sitting down watching her. I gaze gratefully at her hands. For over 25 years, Mrs Vedam has been giving Indian cooking lessons, and to watch her is to be in the presence of many women – women like her mother, who had passed down the 100-year-old, handwritten recipes I have learned in Mrs Vedam’s classes. This is a visit to return the concrete manifestations of her generosity – the four shopping bags and a box of Tupperware and glass jars that she had brought, filled with food, to our house while I was away and my husband was ill. We are here to convey our gratitude. As always, we receive more than we give. How can one thank Mrs Vedam? We offer her a book of poetry wrapped in an embroidered linen towel, perhaps to lay next to her sandalwood soap, and a large bunch of yellow and purple wildflowers. She and her husband love gardening. When she thanks us, her voice is light and brilliant. What she would really like, in these days of telephone and email, is to receive more letters. I resolve to put pen to paper.

A psychologist named Aaronette White has started a group for people who need to write. Literally. Her emailed invitation is addressed to “People Who Need To Write”. Aaronette has studied creativity and its opposite, writer’s block. She has divined that the inhibitions against writing are both internal and social. We suffer not only from a fear of outward expectations and judgement, but also from the pressure of undermining inner voices. Addressing both these levels, Aaronette has organised a series of weekly writing sessions during the three-month academic break and thrown it open to anyone who would like to write. The entire enterprise consists of a conducive space, human bodies in quiet proximity, and the desire to write. This is an act of great generosity and hope.

I have come with no expectation of success. I am a watchful, solitary writer and I have had dispiriting experiences with groups in which I do not know the participants. In the room I feel wary and self-conscious, though I resolve to stay and try. During the two hours I spend writing in the presence of these other people, some of them known to me, some not, something inexplicable starts to happen. In my deepest interior a hum of shared presence – what I might call community - is making itself felt. In the room the mutual energy of one another’s stillness is generating a slowly moving machine of writing.

I am plugged in.

I look around. We all are. And every letter is working.

How much is that woman in the window? Woof! Woof!

Nadine Botha

When I walk down the road in Bahrain, all male eyes are on me. It’s not an uplifting or empowering gaze. I shy away from it, attempting to efface my personality and femininity. My leg hair is growing down to my ankles and my trendy wardrobe has been swapped for numerous bag outfits.

Sex has been erased from my daily mental checklist: people can unwittingly read your psychological energy.

During the day I wear my oversized sunglasses. Men stare more obviously, right into my face, as though because they can’t see my eyes, I can’t see them. Of course, because they can’t see my eyes, I can keep my face looking straight ahead, and they don’t see me checking them out from the corners of my eyes. At night, with no protection, I look past them, around them, or keep my eyes glued to the ground, counting my steps.

I don’t return a defiant gaze or challenge them. My vagina alone won’t change the world.

On Thursday afternoons, before the Friday weekend, visitors from more conservative neighbouring countries flock here to take advantage of the blind eye the Bahraini government turns to its increasing prostitute population. Macho tourists hang out of SUVs, cat-calling to every woman on the street. All the men on the island leer more openly, as though the change in the air gives them permission.

In an all-girl boarding school, in high school, the joke ran that Thursday night was lesbian night. Not here.

Women can drive in Bahrain and Bahraini business women are coveted employees since high-profile events such as the election of the female Bahraini lawyer as president of the United Nations General Assembly. Recently Bahrain appointed its first female judge. Many Muslim women work, and despite a decidedly patriarchal home life there seems to be great respect for women. “Patriarchal” does not necessarily translate into “being treated badly” as it does in many other countries.

Still, on the street, there are two types of women: Muslim women and prostitutes.

And, seeing that Muslim women don’t go to bars, all women in bars are prostitutes. I am a prostitute. I could be wined and dined under the veil of decency that turns this sex-for-cash into an extended date with affected romanticism, ending up in a hotel room with a financial “gift”. The corner shops in the hotel areas sell bumper packs of assorted condoms, KY jelly, replaceable hymens, Spanish fly, ejaculation postponing cream and various other little boxes and jars, the labels of which I can’t read before the teller hands me my cigarettes. These are next to the blank tapes and camera film (who still buys this?) on the one side, and face cleaning products on the other.

The thing is, men don’t sexually objectify with their gaze, they “price” you. Scanning you like a barcode, they see women as just another commodity. Don’t get it wrong, this is not Amsterdam-type women’s lib, where the gaze is directed. In Amsterdam I am not sexual for not being behind a glass window. Here I am always behind a glass window for being female.

Just like the women they’ve seen on TV.

Ag Shame

Maxine Case

I am of marriageable age. Not that I have the remotest desire to get married at this stage of my life, even if it is obvious to everyone else that I should be married. Take shopping for instance. There I am, minding my own business, deciding what kind of peanut butter to buy, when I run into someone who has known me since I was “this high”. Inevitably, once the “how you’s” have been exchanged, comes the kicker, “So, are you married yet?”

When I answer in the negative, the person (and it is usually an older woman, an auntie), will shake her head ever so slightly and say, “Ag shame!” Now I’ve heard that the Japanese have a shame culture, but this has nothing on the “ag shame” mentality of my community. Nobody seems remotely interested in what else is going on in my life; it seems that once you reach a certain age, all that matters is that wedding band. I can almost hear the silent question, “What’s wrong with you?”

And aunties are not the only ones to blame. There they are, the people with kids. People my age, my lapsed friends. Desperately trying to keep their offspring under control, they suspiciously eye my shopping basket and ask with maternal pride: “So, how many kids do you have?”

Struggling to maintain their composure when I reply that I do not have any children, they ask the next question: “But aren’t you married yet?” When I own up to not having a husband, they push their luck: “But you are engaged, aren’t you?” Again no. I can see them assessing me furiously, trying to figure out just what is wrong with me. As I calmly bear up under the scrutiny, they assume a look of compassion and say, “Don’t worry, the right guy will come along!” Loudly. All the shoppers within earshot stare at me. Ag shame!

I have been asked this question so many times that I have come up with what I think are rather good answers to the question of my marital status:

  • No, not until the government legalises gay marriages.
  • I would, but my father has a problem with me marrying out of my race (or religion).
  • I’m waiting for my fiancé from the planet Zapon to beam me up.
  • I’ve just got out of rehab, so marriage is the furthest thing on my mind. Or,
  • As soon as my lover’s finished serving his prison sentence.

I mean, ask a stupid question!

“Hideous, quaint and barmy”

Pic by Julian FriedmannIsobel Dixon

“Hideous, quaint and barmy.” A good summation of how I felt as a girl. So when, in my late teens, I encountered seventeen-year-old Marigold Green, who described herself thus, I liked her – a lot. I admired her funny, feisty “old-fashionedness” and I admired her creator, Jane Gardam, for bringing her so vividly to life in the pages of a novel.

The novel’s title, Bilgewater, is Marigold’s nickname: her father Bill – also “very memorable and eccentric” – is a Housemaster at a boys school in Yorkshire, where punning callousness turns her into “only Bill’s Daughter. Hence Bilgewater. Oh hilarity, hilarity! Bilgewater Green.”

Unlike Bilgewater, I had a mother, but my schoolmaster father and my sense of my own peculiarities and my family’s eccentricities strengthened the bond. My age, and of my age, Bilgewater took over from the more truly old-fashioned Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon in my bookish affections. There were scenes when I felt I was her, and in others I simply wanted to be her.

I neglected my exam preparation the day I picked up the book. What began as a brief treat in a revision break soon extended for hours, as I raced through it compulsively – just one more chapter, then another. The bath water chilled about me, far too late, when I finished with that slightly disoriented, bereft feeling you have when emerging from an absorbing fictional world into the more mundane textures of your own life. And the perils of a Science paper in the morning.

I have reread Bilgewater several times since then, though not, I realise, for many years … Starting to write this piece I had the selfsame urge to abandon my duties for the sake of lapping up the beautifully paced prose. Jane Gardam writes with economy that still retains warmth, with passion that never tips over into self-indulgence. It is a rare balancing act.

Bilgewater , which I read perhaps a decade after it was first published in 1976, introduced me to other books that displayed the author’s quiet, unshowy intelligence and gentle humour. Jane Gardam has now written over 25 books, among them favourites like Crusoe’s Daughter, The Summer After the Funeral (with more solitary heroines, troubled by their other-ness) and Old Filth, shortlisted for the Orange Prize in 2005. She has won the Whitbread twice, and has been shortlisted for the Booker. Alongside the novels are surprising short story gems, and she seems a particularly worthy winner of the Katherine Mansfield award, for The Pangs of Love, And Other Stories. She has been quoted as saying she always knew she’d be a writer: “(I)t seemed the only sensible thing to do.” Thank goodness for her sense, and sensibility: I can’t think of another septuagenarian woman whose talent I envy more …

I could go on, but see, there’s this book I must read, again … “Outside the bleak and brutal Cambridge afternoon – December and raining,” I read. Though in reality the night outside is a sultry one, after England’s welcome (to me) “heatwave”, I am already in another season, just as about twenty years ago I was transported from the Karoo to another country. I am grateful to Jane Gardam for this and other memorable journeys.

Moving house

Rosemund Handler

An anonymous huddle on the beachside bench, she becomes more distinct as the weeks pass, her resolute, dreaming distance oddly compelling. One day I stop, introduce myself, and ask her name. Swivelling slightly towards me she says, “Sylvia”, then gazes out to sea. I’m not dismissed; she’s simply forgotten me.

She is scrupulous about personal hygiene, standing on the beach in the early morning, her face, neck and long brown breasts foamy, her lower body encased in a black garbage bag. Washing herself – raising her arms, bending, scrubbing, rinsing – is an assiduous ritual: her movements are slow and thorough, her heavy eyes as aloof to the averted glances of passersby as those of a tribal queen.

Sylvia doesn’t drink, smoke or take drugs. She writes. Pages and pages of neat round figures are inscribed in a black notebook. I ask her what the figures mean. Leaning closer to her careful work, she says they’re for the Lotto. Bible-wielding churchwomen – gesticulating, impassioned – sometimes sit beside her on her bench and offer the comfort of Jesus Christ instead, but their persistence goes unrewarded. Languidly impervious to the incursions of others, Sylvia is a citizen of her own remote, solitary world.

On a cold winter night of rain and wind, I dream of her, welded to her bench like a corpse, eyes glossy pearls of the sea. In the morning I pull out a raincoat lined with wool, bought on impulse and unworn, and take it to her. She smiles for the first time, and I realise she’s younger than I thought. Exposure has bitten into her features and stiffened her limbs, arming her with a dogged lethargy – the incurious fatalism of one who has fallen through the cracks and must be left to get on with the unavoidable business of survival. Yet her homelessness seems as much a daily struggle to retain the rudiments of her embattled womanhood as it is a submission to the caprices of the elements.

Again I risk prodding open her snail shell to ask if she’s safe where she sleeps. (What possible reply can I hope for? What safety?) Sylvia tells me that she is safe. I ask if she has family. She nods. In the Eastern Cape. Are they not worried about you sleeping outside? They are worried. Where did you live before? In Khayelitsha, she says, and looks out at the darkening waves as if her secrets live in their sombre depths. What happened? I persist. Why did you leave? She shakes her head. I did not leave. They burned my shack. They burned my child. I don’t like that place.

A week later, Sylvia has moved house, leaving behind good intentions and other intruders. The dream has not come back. I know where she’s gone: to another salty, wintry beach with showers and toilets, and views where her gaze can lose itself, for a while, in the acquiescent sea.

Gert and the Cashier

Silke Heiss

If you want to speak, you should be careful. I knew a man by the name of Gert who gagged his woman when she spoke. It's a pertinent story, since Gert is typical of a fair number of people. The woman who belonged to Gert was a cashier. Gert paid for chicken and two litres of Fanta at her till one day and she smiled very sweetly at him.

Gert took her home and bound a silk scarf around the cashier's lips. She looked lovely and Gert was enchanted. He bought two platinum bracelets and had them connected. He tied one bracelet around each of the cashier's wrists. She looked disarmingly vulnerable. Gert, for the first time in his life, felt nurturing and, removing the scarf, fed the cashier strawberries. When she became slightly rebellious and tried to speak to him with a mouth full of strawberries, Gert quickly gagged her again. The white silk scarf ended up decorated with pink speckles and Gert could not take his eyes off the cashier.

One evening, Gert invited his colleague and friend Bryan for supper. Unfortunately, the evening did not transpire as either of them had expected. The roast lamb in the oven burnt to a cinder, because before Bryan and Gert were able to consume it, Bryan did something outrageous. He ended Gert's life.

Bryan had not accepted his colleague's invitation with this intention in mind. He had, on first arriving at the flat, merely enquired after the reason for Gert's keeping a gagged and handcuffed woman in his lounge - a woman, moreover, whom one could only with difficulty recognise as human, so dreadfully thin she was. When Gert had hummed and hawed without offering an acceptable explanation, Bryan had begun to untie the gag. Gert lost his temper and beat Bryan with the egg-beater. One of the first strokes came down (accidentally) on the cashier who fainted soundlessly, which made no difference to her. But the perceived damage was too much for Bryan. He sprang up and, removing Gert's culinary weapon with alarming viciousness, beat his friend and colleague to death.

The roast lamb in the oven had by this time undergone substantial chemical change and Bryan, and even the unconscious cashier, could not help but cough raucously. The cashier terminated her fainting when Bryan picked her up in his arms and carried her out of the building.

"What is your name?" he asked her.

“Melissa,” she replied.

Bryan told her who he was. Melissa sat on the mauve seat covers of Bryan's car, folded her hands in her lap and sighed.

After they had both recovered they got married. Melissa had only a single gripe: she could never eat chicken or strawberries again, and for some reason she could so little stand the colour orange that she took to being violently ill whenever she perceived this hue, be it on a dress or in the evening sky.

Anna is bleeding

Michelle McGrane

Anna is ten and she is bleeding. Her mother warned her this would happen to her one day, but she has forgotten. She thinks she is dying, bleeding to death. She sits on the toilet, her favourite pair of panties wrapped around her skinny knees, the ones she got in her Christmas stocking with Girl Power sewn across the front in curly pink letters. She stares in horror at the bright red blotch that has seeped into the thin white cotton fabric, then she opens her mouth and screams.

Anna is thirteen and she is bleeding, she just doesn't know it yet. When the school bell rings, she packs her books and pencil-case away in her canvas bag and joins the throng of children moving in a crush towards the classroom door. When she hears the boys behind her laughing, she turns around and sees them pointing at her skirt. She fiddles nervously with her ponytail and tries to ignore them. She knows the boys in her class are idiots, but they still make her feel clumsy and ugly.

Anna is sixteen and she is bleeding. The sun is shining, the sky is blue, but she's not swimming in the sea or jumping through waves with the rest of her family. She is sitting alone on the sand with the towels and assorted beach paraphernalia they have discarded next to her. She does not know how to use tampons. She has tried, but she can't do it. The instructional diagrams on the leaflet inside the box just confuse her more. She feels like an outsider, a pariah. The sun beats down on the back of her neck making her headache worse. The heat is melting her bones.

Anna is nineteen and she is bleeding. She is also in love for the first time. She is lying with her boyfriend, Peter, on his unmade bed in a varsity digs. He keeps telling her how much he needs her and trying to slip his hand up between her thighs. She is too embarrassed to tell him she has her period. He says menstruation is dirty, makes her feel ashamed of the trickle between her legs. Her words stick at the back of her throat and she gets tired of holding her breath, so she stands up and leaves as silently as she came. He ignores her after that.

Anna is twenty-five and she is bleeding. Her latest man, Zane, thinks she is a manifestation of some ancient goddess. He is into earth mothers and crystal healing and loves fucking her when she is on. He says it makes him feel like he is harnessing the power of the natural world. Anna just thinks it is messy. Zane is not the one who has to change the sheets and wash them.

Anna is twenty-eight and she is not bleeding, in fact, she is two weeks late. She sits on the cracked toilet seat in her bachelor flat waiting to see if the strip will turn blue. The drip from the bath tap makes her think of a ticking time bomb. She hasn't prayed to God since before she was ten. She wonders why he should start listening to her now.

Weighing Ubuntu

Muthal Naidoo

On a slip of paper, write out A person is a person through others or I am because we are. Then take a pair of scissors and cut your phrase in two as follows:

          A person is a person                     through others
          I am                                   because we are.

Then get an old-fashioned pair of scales, the balance type, put A person is a person/I am on one scale and through others/because we are on the other. If they balance out, everything is fine. If the scale with a person is a person/I am goes flying up and through others/because we are comes crashing down, it means we are living in an unbalanced society and the individual has been sacrificed at the altar of the collective.

Usually ordinary women, the majority in any society, are the person’s or the I’s that weigh nothing. So we have to examine what is on the other scale to see why women have so little substance. When we look we usually find traditions and conventions.

Obviously we need traditions, but like everything that human beings invent nothing is perfect. Like democracy, which is not perfect. Democracy gives us equal rights; that means that murderers and rapists have equal rights too, so we make laws that interfere with their equality, lock them up and rescind their rights. Thus we change the meaning of democracy. If we can change the meaning of democracy, why do we protect traditions that weigh women down? Traditions that come from a long time ago were made for different conditions. The ordinary woman in South Africa today faces exploitation, abuse, robbery, rape and murder 24/7. So how does the traditional woman of the past who kneels with downcast eyes, walks behind her husband, must be fertile, must produce boy children, must accept others’ authority over her like a child, cope when transported to 2006?

The answer lies in Ubuntu. If a person is a person through other people, then a woman finding herself in the midst of others who are abusers, robbers, rapists and murderers must become the woman that these conditions demand. To bring back the balance in society, she must stop colluding with her oppressors. She must stop allowing others to take her for granted. She cannot remain a child who takes orders. She must become an adult who makes decisions, exerts her power, negotiates for what she believes in and takes control of her life. If she continues to accept without question the laws that men make to control her, she is being abused, will become an abuser and will allow her children to be abused.

She has to challenge old traditions and establish new ones, new traditions that allow her to be a person affirming I am. In an overpopulated, HIV-positive world she must question the most fundamental beliefs; the traditions that keep women enslaved to their bodies; the necessity for wifehood and motherhood, traditional careers such as care givers, nurses, teachers, beauty and fashion queens, prostitutes and servants.

In 2006, the ordinary woman must acknowledge that she has a mind and a will to stop the abuse of her body. Motho ke Motho ka Batho.

Big breasts

Arja Salafranca

They started out as little buds, as emerging breasts do when puberty hits and hormones rage. But I was nine years old, adolescence was far away and my friend remarked on these burgeoning breasts as we bathed together.

I was what is benignly termed an “early developer”. But those innocuous words do not hint at the enormous upheavals and pain that early developers experience. Whether they are growing breasts at nine, starting periods at ten or shooting up to be giants in their early teens and standing high above their classmates, early developers are different.

I didn’t grow so tall that I shot up above my classmates; instead I grew breasts when I was still a child and started bleeding at age ten. I needed a bra at 11 and refused, at first, to wear one. Whereas this is a rite of passage that is enthusiastically welcomed by most girls, I was just embarrassed. Through the thin, cheap cotton of my school uniform, school classmates could clearly see the outlines of that bra, I told my mother. But she persevered and insisted I wear mine.

So, by age 11, I was wearing a bra, and sporting an adult 34B size. I had started my periods. Beyond my own initial embarrassment at having classmates see my bra through my uniform, were the reactions of the boys in my 12th year. I got a nickname, BB, for “big breasts”, a name designed to taunt, and it had its effect. I could find no suitable rejoinder. The boys were telling the truth there. One day my mother came up with immortal words as a rebuff: “Just tell him you wish his penis was as big as your mouth.” It worked, the teaser went bright red and the teasing stopped for a while.

I can only imagine that late developers suffer as much embarrassment and hurt as we early developers. While your classmates are comparing bras and discussing tampon brands you’re gangly and thin, your chest is agonisingly flat and you hope against hope, month after month, that that vague stomach ache signals a menstrual cramp. But I think I may have preferred that scenario, if I had had a choice in the matter. Who the hell wants to feel like a woman when you’re 12 years old? And when you’re 14 and you now have really large breasts, by anyone’s reckoning, you feel like a little old lady. You become those appendages. You daydream of breast reductions the way others dream of boyfriends.

I had mine at 16, the same year that others in my age group saw plastic surgery as a magical cure. One girl in my class sported black rings under her eyes and a new nose. I got rid of those breasts – so enormously grateful to my mother for noticing and finding the money for the operation. For the first time since age 11 or 12 I felt girlish again.

I have never regretted it; have urged others on when they have come to me with questions. As a result of my own experiences I don’t understand women who plug their small breasts with silicone and sport jutting chests. But then of course I wouldn’t – my experience of big breasts was so opposite. Yet those real ones never leave you either: I still have nightmares. I dream I have one breast bigger than the other; or that they have become droopy. At 16 I shed a burden of too early womanhood, but somewhere deep in me there are still days when I wake, surprised to find I have two normal breasts.

How to become a freak: An introductory lecture

Deborah Steinmair

I remember the sixties of the previous century. The Republic was imbued with a rosy hue. Doctor Verwoerd was ensconced on his throne: an amicable uncle with a big belly and greasy fringe, angling from a small boat.

I was idyllically happy until the age of four, when I lost my heart and my innocence to the boarder in the back room. He was a distant relation, a stammering nerd approximately twenty years old. In photos hailing from this golden era he looks like your typical American serial killer: pallid with acne scars and soulful eyes behind horn-rimmed spectacles, a weak mouth. He was our babysitter. According to women’s magazines, women reach their sexual peak between the ages of forty and fifty. I peaked at four. Never again would I pulsate this hungrily, this openly. The church, the state and the school would see to that. It was our secret and I would never dream of telling a soul. I wanted this and I did not want it to stop.

By the time I started school he had long since left. In grade one there was a semi-retarded child who shaved off her eyebrows with a razor. This was long before the Punk movement. Kids avoided her because she sprayed when she talked and worked up a fine foam when she became excited. I listened to her gibberish with horrified fascination. I could understand what she held forth about. She lisped and rolled her r’s and spewed disjointed stories about a policeman lying on the carpet in his underpants (I could easily picture the scene: the underpants were Y-front, white, perforated). “Zen he take out hith FING … if white thtuff ooze from hith FING, you know he WANTH it …” The whites of her eyes showed and she was foaming at the mouth. She was soon dispatched to a special school.

I was lonely after she left. Now I was the only rotten apple in a choir of angel faces, like the stars’ lights, heavenly pearls for Jesus’ crown. I watched the kids at play through eyes long dead, thinking: if only you knew how rotten I am, stinking, sick, full of sin. When I saw dogs mating, I wanted to vomit. I was irrevocably polluted. I would never get a husband, this much was certain.

I started to have obsessive-compulsive thoughts: a mocking voice in my inner ear repeating one hundred times: Sweet Jesus has a weenie, Jesus’ weenie. To drown out the satanic voice I started reading frenziedly, every waking moment, anything that came to hand. I was fucked. I was born again a hundred times. I postponed puberty until further notice. I was a religious child, holier than thou, a nervous wreck. The landscape in my head I sculpted in an orderly fashion, in English.

The first time I read Blake:

O rose thou art sick
The invisible worm
that flies in the night
in the howling storm
has found out thy bed
of crimson joy
and his dark secret love
doest thy life destroy;

Everything inside me stood to attention and yelled: YETH!

Red Words

Bobby van der Merwe

I am panicking. It’s that moment in between a thought and a sentence where the divine spark of creation either ignites your paper with a devilish turn of phrase, or peters out miserably in a synapse. It’s that emptiness of turning yourself upside down to find the Word to complete the sentence that explains to the world why you matter – and it remains the Word you can’t find, the definition that remains unfinished. In this panicked moment – as a human – I feel undone, and – as a woman, without Words – I feel incomplete, like a memory that is always out of reach.

How can I explain to you that when the Words are no more than exoskeletons and shadow, I am drained of blood, of meaning. Every curve that is woman, alive and mysterious, seems to retreat, receding with the lowering tide of runaway prose. In a minute, I will be driftwood-light, lost on unnamed, unknown currents. In this moment, between ending and beginning again, I am nowhere, awash, undecided.

I always imagined the Words of women to be red: deep red, primary red like bloodshed, roses and crimson deeds. I had always hoped that with each generation, each story, each poem, that language – red and irrevocable – would remain rooted in my heart. Then why am I afraid? Why is this failing light and turning season taking my Words from my mouth? Why are Her petals falling at my feet? Why can I no longer see my Words in the mirror, or cut my hand with their longing?

Am I no longer a woman when the Words desert me, and cannot enfold me? A woman writing a make-believe me for every occasion. Now that my Red Words have left me, taken their courage and passion, will I revert to being a pencil sketch without definition, a before photo and an infinite possibility without substance? I have become white space without the elegance – achromatic emptiness without the lines of language to define my form. Where a universe of Words should exist at my fingertips, there is only the ice of Words left unsaid, the white noise of me.

Every woman-writer-creator, goddess-like, needs a continuum of phrases to reinvent her life, to rebuild her planets and resurrect her suns. In this moment, between sentence and revelation, I have lost all Red Words, all sight of my shores. I drift with my broken Words in my hands, unable to write a happy ending. I am a bloodless hyacinth on still black waters: a passing memorial to meaning and myth.

I am panicking. The moment has passed, and I still can’t find the Word to make me feel real.

Can you?

LitNet: 09 August 2006

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