after the meltdown,
a few days later
it takes a while to descend a mountain
carrying wisdom in your hands.
if they tell you otherwise,
they are lying, do not believe them—it is heavy
the road slippery, treacherous
when you are walking for two, holding hands.
another thing that they do not tell you
when you are still pregnant, watering all your dreams
with useless things—what type of pram, what cot, what colour
should i paint his room?
planning a life with no compass, missing a map
about failure and guilt, how you will have to eat it.
nobody tells you, how to save your child on a beach
when you do not know what you are doing
you have read all the books—listened
to the people who know, hung yourself onto their wisdom
even then, you might stumble.
—he loves it there, likes to throw rocks into the waves
watches them disappear, happy.
but it will be a while before we return
to those stones—smooth
there is this thing, now, in his memory
how it found him, perhaps the wind, the sound
of the silence
too much, at once
—jagged, it pierced, screamed through his brain
tired to the marrow of every war that i have failed in,
and God, there have been so many
without looking, without holding my words by the hand.
my palms, not covering their mouths.
why have i not learnt?
i fell, forgetting how quickly my words run away from me
how much they can do before i round them up hours later
—spent, their work done.
all i can do then, is hold them in my hand, examine them.
a soft animal, dissected, they still breathe, i look at their faces.
then i kill them.
next time, i will know their names, will not
let them live outside of me.
when he climbs onto my lap—
God, still this grace
he spills over me, sharp angles, outgrowing
his mother, asks me softly
‘do you hate me?’
in that moment, i stop breathing.
forget how to keep myself alive, wish
that i could go back and strangle myself.
i eat the guilt.
it tastes like blood, copper on my tongue.
melded into each other, we sit—his fingers on my arm.
i wonder whether his hands explored the inside of my womb,
safe, hearing my voice, my heart
a soft swish above him.
i want to stop breathing, want to be better at this
but still, there is silence.
the sound of God thinking that i know what i am doing.
i have told him this before, told him how i fall
over my own feet
—when i get up to do one thing, i do another.
can he not see, help?
his head is blonde in the crook of my neck, he still smells
how is this possible?
we have both changed around each other, shed
skin a thousand times, since that moment
when we were made in a labour room, cut loose
from each other, but also
my mouth is a wire cage, i open it, let a little bird out
—tell him about the day that he was born, how
he was a stuck, how we struggled, how we needed help
him and i, even then.
suction firm on his head, pulling him out, a guide.
‘one big push now! push!’
and there you were, slippery, blue—umbilical cord wrapped
purple around your neck.
was it something that i did?
should i have done things differently?
and does one say,
my umbilical cord, or yours—ours?
i don’t know, but i should have known
by the way that you liked to move inside me, pushing
against the confines of my borders
that you might find yourself caught, wrapped tight.
i heard them say it, knew—held my breath in my throat, helpless.
i didn’t know then, bruised and wrapped in hormones, my blood everywhere
that in the sharp exhaustion that would still find me,
that i would hold my breath for years, sometimes forgetting.
—heard you cry, or was that me, and there you were, new
on my chest.
shaped to belong, who did this?
—i was born that day, and you
searching, finding nipple, finding breast.
what did i know
about keeping the soft inside of you alive
but you—somehow, you knew
how to keep me alive inside, perhaps
remembering what you were told
before you were sent.
even now, you tell me how it feels
inside your brain when it happens, when it crawls
up to you, out of nowhere
setting everything on fire, how you need me to carry water
how it terrifies you, how you wish
that it could all be undone.
can time be unwrapped?
i want to stop breathing, want to shape my hands
for the next time, be ready.
still, no answer walks into the room, no stone tablet
a map is what i need.
i would throw all my gold onto a pile, watch it burn
if i could take this from you.
but i can’t.
i hold him, for hours.
we talk, i tell him how i don’t know what i am doing
—tell him that he is everything, that
i am sorry.
he flows over my lap, sharp angles, we are soft together.
i think how i have learnt something, how
i can carve this onto my life, this
i know that an umbilical cord can fail
even when it doesn’t mean to.
i think of that man, coming down from the mountain
carrying wisdom in stone.
—i don’t need more words, more laws.
i am teaching myself how to pick rocks up, stones
hold them aloft
put them in my mouth, eat them
over and over, until they are water-soft words, caught
before they have had a chance to escape.
unwrapping the cord, i give my son this.
— unwrapping the cord when it fails
© Liezel Graham 2020.
Image by Christian Holzinger.
If you have read this far, my goodness—thank you!
I have written so much about my son, how is autism makes him beautiful, but like most autistic people, his sensory challenges sometimes lead to meltdowns.
These can be profoundly scary, ripping the safety net from his world.
Sometimes, I handle them better than other times. Like most mums to autistic children, I am too familiar with guilt, and what feels like failure.
I don’t always know how we get through them, but somehow we do.
As a writer, I am always weighing my words, choosing them carefully before I show them to the world.
I always choose to hold a bit of hope, a bit of light.
This poem is naked, most of my work is, but these words are even more so.
I hope that you can still find the light in my words, here.