how to love a tired world.

i heard her — a real, live woman with a beating heart,

hidden

deep

inside her disappointment, say

what does it matter how i live, this world is hard, and why should i care about others, and don’t tell me to smile when nobody ever smiles at me.

and i said, i know, but look!

right here there is a field of orange

just for you,

and why don’t you lie down

in its green embrace and breathe.

just for a little bit.

and if you look up, far away, you will see millions of tiny water drops clinging to each other with sheer joy,

and yes,

i know they’re only clouds,

but soon they will pour their life out

all over this field, and

they won’t care about giving themselves away, and they won’t worry about tomorrow,

or whether the earth appreciates their

sacrifice, and

let

me

tell you a secret,

sometimes, love is messy.

but, i love anyway.

i give it away to everyone

who deserves it, and

especially to those who don’t.

because they are the hungriest, and they don’t know how to make it themselves, and

so i give it to them just like rain, with no expectation.

and really, it is so easy to let go of fear, and all the bits of what-will-they-think, that whisper in your ear, and

sometimes, they don’t want my smile, and they have walls that won’t let kindness through, and that’s ok.

i am not afraid of walls, because i have broken down my own from the inside out, and i know how hard it is to do.

but every now and then,

a word from my mouth flies right across a valley, and falls gently on a heart that hasn’t eaten kindness in weeks, and

it is like a rainstorm on a hot afternoon,

and the relief

when those clouds finally break,

is a living,

breathing

thing,

and i don’t think about the mess then, and

i’ll worry about that another day, and who really worries about cleaning when a tired heart blooms bright in front of your eyes, and all it needed was a bit of love?

so, come, leave your heart outside for a bit — right here with the flowers.

i think i smell rain in the air.

— how to love a tired a world.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photograph by Surreyhills Wellness.

how to fight death.

almost half my faith ago,

when i was wide-eyed

and

fresh in my skin,

a man in a white coat said

i think this might be all

that you’ll get, and

then

there will be no more days left,

for you to chase

in wonder.

and the thought that dying

might be difficult,

climbed onto

my lap and

stayed

with

me.

but somehow i was given more, and

ever since then i have run after

every scrap of beauty

that has danced

past me, and

the feel of the ocean on my skin, and the way that yellow freesias smell like joy, and the taste of the first cup of coffee in the morning, and the curve of my son’s nose against my breast as he nestled to feed in the dark, and the smell of rain after a drought, and the

way that my heart can still make

room for more love, and

how much courage

it takes to trust,

again

and

again, and

every time that fear

told

me

to

sit down,

i said no,

and i stood up.

and this is how i came to know

that living,

is the more difficult thing

to do.

not everybody knows

that dying is easy.

we are all doing it,

right now,

without even trying.

but

do

you

know

how to look fear in the eye,

and

say,

how beautiful is this day,

and i think i shall

enjoy it

very

much

to be

alive,

if only for a little while

longer.

— how to fight death.

(for djs with all my love).

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photograph by David Boca.

honey and water.

she said, this man makes me

feel so alive and he is everything

that i have ever wanted, but

still he is not enough, and

still i need more, and

i don’t know what it is, and why do i always have this thirst in the middle of my heart, and how

do i fill it,

if not with love?

and i said, as gently as i could, because some words are spiky and need to be unwrapped with gentle hands, and

i asked my friend, with the father-shaped hole in her heart,

do you know the difference between honey and water?

do you know that there are men who will pour you cups of honey and oh, it will be so sweet on your tongue and you will feel all your holes fill up with golden stickiness, and

for a little while,

perhaps if you are very lucky,

and if you learn this lesson quickly, then

you will only believe this for a short while, and

you will think that honey is

liquid

love,

but it is not.

and it will never be enough.

because honey

will never

quench

your

thirst.

and you need to wait for a man

who is running water,

pure and full of life, who

will pour himself out, and into your cupped hands, and over your head, dripping down into your bones, filling up that thirst in the middle of your heart.

flooding it with the one thing

that always gives life, and

only then will you know the difference between words that fall sweetly from the tongue, and

the men who use them, and

words that will make an ancient thirst go away, and

they are not the same thing.

honey and water.

and what you should really know, is this,

it is not the man

who should heal your heart, and

only one man is shaped like your father, and

no other man can do that,

fill that hole,

and

fix that hurt.

although some men will try,

if their hearts are big enough for two, and

if they love you enough.

but it is not fair to expect a man to lie down in a hole made by another, so that you can walk across him to the other side, and

you have to find your own way out of that hurt, and when you finally manage to swim to the edge of that hole, and

you finally manage to crawl your way out through the mud, only

then will you know the difference between honey and water, and

you will know which men bring life in their hands, and

which men don’t.

and you will never confuse

them again, and

you will teach your daughter

how to sniff the air for the scent of rain, and you will show her how to walk away from things that do not flow over her thirst with life, and

she will know how to swim

to the edge of her pain, and

she will grow strong from climbing out of holes that were made by others, and

she will stand on the edge of that which wanted to drown her,

but couldn’t.

and water will run down her limbs, and drip from her skin, onto the dry dusty ground, until

everything under her feet blooms green.

and this will be your gift to her.

— honey and water.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photograph by Nicholas Githiri.

somehow, i have kept a child alive in the dark and please don’t tell me how to be beautiful.

the light has woken me early, but the night that was only 380 broken minutes long, has left me tender and not yet ready for all these new hours that stretch lazily ahead of me, like a languid cat already seeking my attention, and i have pulled myself back from sleep 3 times in the name of all that is holy, so that i can put a needle into my sleeping son’s finger to check that there is enough glucose and insulin for him to wake again in the morning—not too much, and not too little, the porrige must be just right said the baby bear, and there was juice and a biscuit in the dark hours, sit up my boy and drink, you are too low, and with eyes closed he hears my voice and drinks, just like a long time ago, and still i manage to keep him alive, and isn’t this a miracle i whisper to myself, and just right is what the magazines say i must be, and not too hot (how dare she…) and not too cold (she’s really let herself go…) and there are women who were not even conceived yet, when i said yes, and they, these lovely, shiny, unlined and untested women, are telling me how to erase the gentle rise, and fall of my body’s topography, and that i should feel shame at the contour lines that snake over my womb, and someone with teeth as white as revelation is telling me how to pretend that my hips never held a heartbeat, and that my breasts were never a source of life, and this is how you shine if you want it all she says, and who doesn’t want that? but this morning i will settle for coffee and a slow-burning hope, and i unroll my yoga mat and i unfurl my limbs and my heart gently follows, and somehow i have kept a child alive in the dark—can you believe that? i ask the pretty girl—and please don’t tell me how to be beautiful.

just don’t.

and now the morning light has climbed in through my window like a bold, teenage lover, and it falls softly on my skin, and i can see all the pretty young women, and all the men who tell us how to be acceptable and everything they’ve ever dreamed of, and i can hear them as i fold my body down, down, down towards my feet, and i can hear their hunger, and it is no longer mine, and somehow i have kept a child alive in the dark, can you believe that? and this, is enough.

—somehow i have kept a child alive in the dark, and please don’t tell me how to be beautiful.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photograph by Arthur Roman.

when the woman learned the lesson once again.

the woman said, i woke up wise one morning a long time ago, after i walked into a man, and got lost, and again today, because i don’t know why, but i forget this lesson so

often, and every now and then, when the child inside me is searching for anything—anyone, to clear the fog from the windows, and when she can’t see out, she searches for someone else to see in, for just a little while,

and i have always been the kind of woman who walks straight into people—i search their eyes, and their smile, and their hearts are open doors to me, but not every open door has a welcome mat on the floor, and why don’t i remember this, it would hurt so much less, and to some i have been skin, and form, a swell of hip and rise of breast, but nothing more and i have searched for the price tag that i may place on my heart in their words, and adjectives will not fill me up, and some people don’t use them often enough—their words, and others, again, use too many—and also too much, of you, and you will get lost in their caves searching for a way out of them, stumbling around in the dark, leaving tiny pieces of yourself on their walls, but i know now,

not to go back to search—for myself, or my heart, and it’s ok, because cave people won’t keep your heart and some of them won’t even know that it’s there, and

if you really want to find yourself, you need to wait for the darkest night when the milky way opens herself up before you like a shy lover, and then you must climb the highest mountain you can find—yes, do this in the dark, and you will skin your knees, and your bones might break, and there will be pain, and even loss, but you will find yourself here, yes you will, and you will be so much more than words that fall like warm honey, and so much more than form and beauty, and swell of hip and rise of breast, and all your lost pieces will return to you, and

even your heart will flutter right out of his cave and come to find you, when the light pours herself out over the horizon and then, when it’s all over and the work of placing your heart gently back where it belongs is done, then you must sit here a while and rest.

talk to the child inside your head and tell her that a woman does not need a string of pearls, or a ring, or the words of a man to hang around her neck, she only needs stars, and the light, and the warmth of her breath to know that she is everything and more, and she is enough.

— when the woman learned the lesson once again.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photograph by Eberhard Grossgasteiger.

courage, dear heart. you can do this.

you’ve changed, haven’t you?

all the truth that you once nailed to the inside of your heart — ran your fingers over every day when nobody was looking — none of it makes sense anymore, does it?

none of it.

and you’ve stared out of windows, and all those tiny cracks in your life, searching for the light, and for that thing that makes it all fall into place, and you’ve found it.

at last.

haven’t you?

and it doesn’t look like what you knew before, and it doesn’t look like anyone else’s, and how do you walk away from all that you’ve known?

and now, you’re afraid.

afraid of walking out your front door wearing your new life, knowing that they might not understand, and you’re lying there in the middle of the darkest thinking hours of the night, hoping they will see how lovely this new life looks on you, but all you can feel is fear.

why?

why are you so afraid of another’s eyes on your heart? have you not scraped enough pain from your skin to feel — to know, that it is ok for you to change? have you not discovered yet, that it is ok to change your mind about things — the biggest things, the smallest things, and even the holiest things.

you can change your mind about anything, really.

really.

because truth has found you in the most unexpected of places, and you have had to grow out of your skin, your birthday, your promises and your life, in order to know that you are only halfway there and suddenly, or maybe not, time has been shy, you realised that the joy that was once blooming in the middle of your heart, is dead, and has been for a while, and that living a lie will not bring it back to life.

only living, will, and

the light is out there waiting for you. waiting just for you to start putting down all the things that no longer fit into your hands, and your bones, and your mouth, and your eyes, and your life is there too, breathing in and breathing out.

with, or without you, and

you might have to undo a vow, or change holy books, or change the way that you have always ticked boxes, and loved yourself, but this can all be done, and

it is scary to stand there, naked from your bones to the tip of your heart, and yes, some of them will not understand, and yes, some of them will not be able to stay, and that is ok.

really, it is.

let them leave.

new people will come.

really — they will, because

do you know how beautiful your truth finally looks on you?

courage, dear heart.

you can do this.

— courage, dear heart. you can do this.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photograph by Kat Jayne.

on finding my place.

one starry night, the woman took a walk inside of herself to the quiet places that she loved to visit, and

there, under the karoo sun, she could play barefoot again, unworried about ice and snow and other cold things, and her young hands could tease the

hot earth for tiny fragments of blue glass hidden in the soil, and

one day i will be an archaeologist and i will dig for things — beautiful things, in the dirt, and i will have rooms full of books and i will travel the world and see pyramids and other beautiful, broken things, and we will see each other and smile — the broken things and i — and i will never have to prove that i do know things and they are all wrong about me and perhaps i will finally belong, and i wonder what that feels like, to fit snugly in a place and in a life, like your shape was made to belong, but

some don’t, do they — belong?

and some people aren’t made

to fit into round holes, because they have sharp edges and sharp corners where the loveliest things hide, but not everybody can see this and not everybody knows, and it takes a very long time for a soft, square heart to know that it is ok not to be round,

and i have been scratching in the dust for years to find hope and life and other green things, and

i have grown soft with love for myself, and i still look for fragments and other broken things in places where others see dirt, and

this is my gift — to see the loveliness in a man’s skin, and to hear africa in his voice as our children swim together, here, far from home, and to see hope in the eyes of a woman who crossed deserts and bullets

with children in tow and then

still the oceans, too — what did she know about water so deep and so fierce, other than that it was safer than the hearts from where she ran, and i look for smiles and people who walk straight into you with mouths that bow up to the light, and eyes that sparkle like glass in the sun — these are the things that i search for now, and when i find them, i turn them over, and over, in my hands and when my hunger is satisfied i hide them, deep in a corner, and oh!

you should see all the beauty that i have hidden inside here, on this side of my walls, and finally i belong.

— on finding my place.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photograph by Tim Mossholder.