how to draw water for someone who is thirsty.

it is entirely possible to love someone

without sending God’s name out first,

without reminding them

of how their hands have failed

to hold water from the well,

and

how you are the answer.

if you love them right,

they will eventually in God’s own time

unfurl

untwist

unlearn.

they will grow beyond your reach

and

the Light will find them.

if you love them right,

you won’t have to use

God’s name

once.

— how to draw water for someone who is thirsty.

© Liezel Graham 2020.

Photograph by Amal Ali.

my granny’s arms were soft and strong.

on the floor of my grandmother’s bathroom, there is a heater spitting blue gas flames into the damp air.

i am about three years old.

i am not afraid of winter howling outside, trying to claw its wet way in through warped window frames.

not yet.

my granny lifts me from the warm, fragrant water onto the cold edge of the roll top bath.

‘careful, ouma’s got you’.

small feet happily balanced, i am taller than her for a moment—my favourite part—my arms find the papery curve of her neck. i cling to her; my face inches away from all the softness that walks out of her mouth whenever she says my name.

she covers me in baby powder from my toes to my head—a grandmother’s talisman.

years later, whenever i am asked to describe my favourite smell, i say ‘baby powder and the smell of rain’.

in that small bathroom, her arms are still firm and strong, and i am still able to trust being lifted up and held safe.

— my granny’s arms were soft and strong | i was held.

© Liezel Graham 2020.

Photograph by Siddarth Bhogra.

how to climb out of a foxhole.

when i find myself walking on a beach again,

sand soft and ocean lapped,

i shall be brave.

braver than i have ever been.

run into the water without a thought

of how i might look

to anyone passing through

on their way home from war.

aren’t we all?

hiding from each other

in foxholes all day

in plain sight.

i shall allow my hands

the freedom to throw joy

into the foam of the green, and

i shall not use them as a holy covering for all the parts of me that are hungry

to feel cool air salted with joy, and

the ordinary blessing of water.

do i really need to earn this right?

i refuse.

pale and dimpled in secret places,

i am a velvet map

to a place called courage.

it turns out,

that despite all my hiding from others,

and me,

that i have been naked all my life,

anyway.

aren’t we all?

and i am slowly dying.

ever since my birth,

time is slowly being taken

from me

and all the nights

that i did not walk into love

feet bare, fingers searching,

has been loss.

the weight of it all was enough

to make me walk away

and live.

— how to climb out of a foxhole.

© Liezel Graham 2020.

Photograph by Jordan Donaldson.

thoughts on failure.

let your failures leave you a better person, not a bitter person.

you are not alone in failing.

let the mistakes you have made—all of them—even the big ones, especially the big ones, leave you as one who will walk back to search for the one who needs help.

you are not the only one who has been lost.

everyone says let go of your failures—let go of your past. i say, all the things you wish you could undo in your life—those three am regrets? don’t let them go. hold onto them, but hold onto them loosely, so that you will always remember what it feels like to get it wrong.

because you are not the only one who has to fight off their past.

don’t let shame define you, but don’t forget the taste of it in your mouth.

give others what you needed when you were on your knees, with your back against the wall.

do this without any ulterior motive.

just be kind.

kindness, compassion and love like to get their hands dirty. they’re not ones for standing around looking holy.

so, take your hurts, take your memories, your failures and your regrets, and go out there and be a safe place for others and give them grace like it’s water.

you hold light in your hands and hope in your mouth.

and you might be the only one doing so.

this is how we change the world. this is how we save lives.

— thoughts on failure.

Photograph by Ander Burdain.

this is not my usual style, but things that need to be said.

liezel

first person, singular.

i was born a fire walker.

i did not want to feel the skin blister under my feet; smell the scorched offering that i was forced to become, but

the fire still came for me.

i had no choice.

and i have seen many things burn down into nothing.

i have thrown ash into the wind—watched it blow away

all the things that my young mouth promised before i knew that i would fail

at this.

and i have sat down by the rivers of babylon

and i have wept.

over and over,

i have peeled my skin off, only to put it back on in the morning.

i was stretched tight in all the wrong places and nobody knew

but me.

and after all the tears i thought i didn’t have, fell from me like rain,

i stood up,

on my new legs, and

i made tea as a new day birthed itself

inside of me.

i poured water into the teapot, the one with the pink flowers, that you gave to me, and

you have always known how to give beauty to me, despite who i am.

despite what i couldn’t be.

in the soft winter rain i saw a gift of light in the clouds over the old kilpatrick hills, and

a rainbow.

not one, but two.

one for me and one for you.

and i knew the days of pretending were over.

i have stripped them from my back, and i have lost feathers, and skin.

but i have done it.

it is done.

i don’t have to pretend anymore.

the fire came for me and i ate it.

— first person, singular.

© Liezel Graham 2020.

Photograph by Grahame Jenkins.

With a grateful nod to songwriters Brent Dowe and Trevor McNaughton of the Jamaican reggae group ‘The Melodians’, who wrote the song ‘The Rivers of Babylon’.