A story of a boy and his babies.

Every morning when I make my son’s bed, I find his babies asleep on the pillow next to him.

It always makes me smile; makes my heart sigh a deep sigh of contentment and if you’ll bear with me, I’ll tell you why, although as always, it might take a while to get to there. Those of you who know me well, also know that a cup of tea is a good thing to have by your side when I start telling a story.

Every night, before he snuggles into bed, and before he gets his three belly kisses—we started off with just one kiss, fluttery and as light as your breath on a cold, Winter’s day, but soon he asked for two, (I blame inflation), and now I have to kiss him three times every night, whilst counting out, ‘One kiss, mwah, two kisses, mwah, and three kisses, mwah!’ Every single night.  

Does he ever get tired of this? No.

Do I? Not even close.

I want to hold onto this so tightly, because I know that one day, I will put my lips on his boy-belly—on that very place where him and I were connected for 40 beautiful weeks, for the very last time, and then I shall wake up the next day, to no more belly kisses, perhaps not being prepared for this loss, this separation, the night before.

Isn’t that how it goes when we raise our babies? We yearn for the firsts, not fully realising that the last of anything, is what we should really be looking out for. They are the ones that take a little piece of your heart with them.

There is only ever one last of everything.

Sometimes this is a good thing, I know, a blessed relief, but not always.

I mourn so very many lasts.

But wait, back to my boy and his five little loves. Once he is finally tucked up in bed, and this takes quite a long time, as he is a night-owl and his entire being comes to life when the moon hangs her full body high in the sky—something that he gets from me, so I cannot complain, you know—anyway, only then will he put his babies to bed.

He places them in precisely the same order each night, and with a cheerful, ‘Come to bed, babies!’ they are arranged in the same order that they entered his life.

First comes Binga, the little black bear that he fell head over heels in love with, in the magazine aisle in our local Asda. Love will find you anywhere, in fact love will find you wherever it wants to. As the saying goes, the heart knows what it wants. And my boy wanted that bear. Now Binga, was a little bear that was the first in a weekly nature magazine series which we didn’t continue buying—partly because from the first moment that he looked at this bear, he had so much love for his Binga that none of the other animals that came after, could compare, and partly because we just couldn’t afford to buy every magazine.

White Bear, is tiny, has a British flag on his chest and was given to him by his Uncle Steve, who stayed with us on a trip up to Scotland from his native England. The love between my boy and White Bear, was instant and almost as deep as the magazine aisle love-affair. Unfortunately, because of White Bear’s small stature, he has been the cause of many late-nights and me frantically crawling under beds, behind cupboards and taking trips down to the car in the icy night-air, because, ‘Maybe he climbed out of my backpack and got lost in-between the seats and he is ALONE and he is scared, Mom! You have to go and rescue him!

Apart from writer, poet, registered nurse, psychiatric nurse, and midwife, I think I might add ‘Bear Rescuer’ to my CV, and you may infer from this what you will, but all I am saying is that if you want to know where tiny, soft toys hide out at night, I am your woman.

Dalmatian, Pink Poodle, and Penguin (yes, those are really their names), all followed me home after various trips to Ireland and Northern Ireland. Dalmatian and Poodle were lost and alone in Duty Free, and after sending photos home for approval, they were both accepted with a love as big and as bright, as the sun. Penguin was a museum shop baby who was tired of living with all his brothers and sisters. It got a bit cramped in that basket on the shelf and now he just loves being tucked up at night under a warm duvet, snuggled up to his fluffy siblings.

When this boy of mine loves, he loves from the inside out, with everything that he’s got, despite everything we were once told.

He might not understand love, or how to show affection.’

For a short while, I allowed those words to climb through my windows and into my heart, but let me tell you this—apart from being an excellent bear-hiding-place-finder, I am also really, really good at saying, ‘No.’, at closing doors when they need to be closed, but really that is a story for another time.

This story is about taking back what was taken from others—refusing to give what was taken from others.

Because this boy of mine knows how to love, and his love is always a soft place, and I grew up in an {extended} family where most boys were not allowed to be soft.

They were not allowed to live unhindered in their own skin.

Boyhood was a short season.

And boys don’t cry, and they don’t show fear, and they don’t tuck babies to bed wearing gentleness as a crown. Not when they are already twelve seasons old.

No.

Where I grew up, boys were {already} men.

A story with no end, and with no soft beginning.

It might have gone on, and on, and on, but I said, ‘No. No more of this.’

This boy shall breathe the rhythms of his own body. This boy shall grow into his bones, and into his skin, at the rate of his own seasons.

This boy shall dance, and he shall wear a red skirt if he wants to, and for a long while he did, and the shape of it around his bare boy-legs as he spun round, and round, in the afternoon light, filled him up with so much happiness that you could stare at his face for hours after and know that you were in a cleft in a rock, and you were looking at everything good in this world.

Everything that God put here, so that I can find my way home.

Every morning when I make my son’s bed, I find his babies asleep on the pillow next to him.

It always makes me smile; makes my heart sigh a deep sigh of contentment and I’ll tell you why.

It is because I am growing a man, slowly.

Unhindered in his own skin, he loves deeply and with wild abandon.

He knows nothing else than this—that every night he makes a safe place for everything that he loves, and in the morning, he starts all over again.

— A story of a boy and his babies.

Image my own.

© Liezel Graham 2020.

Remember: Light does, what light does.

I want to tell you a story. It’s long and winding, but I hope there will be a crumb for you, or a glass of brand-new wine, or water. Let’s see.

Will you let me? Ok?

I have been chasing a poem for a few days now.

I don’t usually run after poems, or stories, and I don’t like to go and look for them, either.

It feels too much like picking unripe fruit.

A good poem shows herself when she is ready. When she is ripe.

Windfall poems are the ones that I really want.

Windfall poems are the ones that I find in the long grass, sometimes long after I have given up, and to be honest with you, sometimes I do.

{see my heart behind my words, please. it beats just like yours.}

Windfall poems are a beautiful serendipity, but they are also the ones that I tend to slip on—the ones that have me flinging my arms out wildly, like new-born wings as I try desperately to stay on my feet.

{people are watching, you know, and listening to hear what I don’t say.}

And I have been there so many times, searching for something to give, only to slip and fall.

I am good at falling, but also, I know how to get up again.

I have carried dark things on my back.

{look for this in my words, please.}

You might think that a good poem, a poem blown off the tree, away from the branch, and onto the ground would be a sweet, grateful thing to hold in my hands, and it is all that, but a good poem also makes me work—makes me work to stay upright, sometimes she makes my heart race with the effort of not falling over.

Nobody sees this part, of course. I keep this hidden behind the naked skin of my words, but if you look for it, you will find it there.

{look for it until you find it. please.}

A good poem will have blemishes and bruises, and the birds will have been at the sweetness of her bones with their hungry autumn beaks. All of this is true, and it is tempting to walk on and ignore that which lies at my feet, but then also, I am not so good at ignoring things, and when I find the right one, the right poem? I bend down holy, pick her up, holding her close to my face, inhaling from deep inside my grandmother’s lungs, and I know.

I know that I have found her, or rather, that I have been found.

I know this, because a good poem smells like darkness and also, like light, and once you have tasted the darkness in words, and rubbed their light all over your dirty skin, you will never forget.

{light does, what light does.}

A poem that is stitched together from my darkness and from my light, will tiptoe over to my side and sit down quietly next to me. Then, after a little while she will climb onto my lap and kiss my cheek softly, her breath apple sweet.

I hope that she does this for you too.

{you can’t take this away from me, but I know that there is always someone who will try.}

But sometimes she hides, my poem, and she won’t come out until I call her, until I give her my own name to wear on her shoulder.

And it hurts, this taking the six letters of my name, giving it to a poem and saying, ‘Yes. Yes, this is mine. I shall own this, and everyone will see.’

I shall pin these words to my chest, watch my skin bleed, and it will be good in the end.

In the end it will all be good.

Outside my window where I sit working at my desk, the weather has wrapped herself in a light coat, and I have made pots of strong Assam tea, and read from the beautiful mountain of books next to my bed, and I have worked on assignments to learn new skills—there is a new season waiting for me, and I teach my son how to love numbers, and I show him that adjectives are wonderful things, but that they don’t tell you how valuable someone really is.

Not everyone knows this, though, and so there are many people who love adjectives, who crave them and eat them with hungry hands, stuff their cheeks, syrup running down their chins, but still they are never full.

Perhaps, they forget that we are nouns.

That we are bone, and spine, and blood, and scar, and heart, and breath, and fear, and hope.

And that we can stand alone in a room full of people and know who we are deep inside.

{woman: a noun that does not need an adjective to hold her up.}

They forget that adjectives only serve to cover us up—hide us from each other.

I tell him, my son in his man-cocoon, that we can choose adjectives just like we choose our clothes, and that there is a little bit of magic about them. It’s all a little mysterious to me, even after all these years, but adjectives, if you use them in the proper way, are a little bit like liquid gold.

You can choose to pour it over someone even when the word doesn’t quite fit them yet, and before you know it, if you keep going back to polish it, the gold will have set into something glorious.

It has become the very thing you wanted it to become.

You have created something from dust.

{God said you could.}

You should try it! Call yourself ‘loved’ at least seven times a day, and then you times that by seventy and I promise you, very soon, your bones will believe you. Go on. Do it!

{love lives in all of us.}

But I digress. Back to my story.

This dreadfully stubborn poem refused to show herself to me, and she was having none of this windfall business, and simply muttered, ‘No’, at my begging her to please come and sit with me.

Only giving me a glimpse of her shape here and there, it was enough to drive me to distraction, and this morning I couldn’t take it anymore and I stamped my foot and said, ‘Enough of this! Who are you? What do you want to wear today? You had better tell me or I might pull out clothes for you to wear, and that will teach us both a lesson.’

{remember that time we forgot to write our words naked and people got confused at what we meant.}

And that made her laugh, and at last she came out from behind the thing that I have been trying to avoid, the thing that I was trying so hard not to think about.

Of course, she would hide there, I thought to myself, as she looked at me and told me to light a candle. In fact, not one, but six, and I said,

Six candles in the middle of the day? Look at all the light that is already here. You are wasting my candles!

{can light ever be wasted? dear God, I still have so much to learn.}

But what I have learnt, is to do as I am told, when a poem tells me what to do, or what to say.

So, I lit six candles and stood back to watch the tiny flames in recycled glass jars (blackberry jam, if you must know), light up my kitchen windowsill.

A candle for each letter of my name.

A candle for each time that I picked up a stone in the last few days, raised my hand to throw it, but then, remembering that I am made entirely of glass blown by God’s mouth, and that my windows are dirty, and that I am a woman now, and that I was throwing stones with the arm of the small child that hides in the dark corners behind my mouth, too afraid to say anything.

Because she was told her voice didn’t matter.

Because she didn’t have the right adjectives pinned to her chest.

Because she didn’t know that {girl} was enough.

Because for so long she only knew that the one who threw the stone first, was the winner.

Because someone walked all over my words, that have my blood on them, and they laughed.

{still, I chose light, but it was hard.}

I remembered.

I dropped the stone.

I said, ‘No’, and I walked away.

Because I have been here before.

I have tied my own hands with another’s rope.

I have sat at their feet refusing to leave, refusing to go free.

{still, I chose light, but it was actually for me.}

A candle for each letter of my name because I will not allow you to hold me prisoner.

I have set myself free, by dropping the stone that sits in my hand.

The stone with your name on it.

So, kick off your shoes, lift high your skirt and walk with me here by the apple tree.

Perhaps a poem will find you.

Perhaps freedom will.

Mind the stones.

I am building an altar.

{light does, what light does.}

© Liezel Graham 2020.

Image by Clement Falize, on Unsplash.

a very naked, vulnerable post

This is a very long, very naked post that has taken me years to write and share.

I have loved stories and books ever since I was very young.

I used to (still do) get lost inside a book and many afternoons were spent lying stretched out on my tummy listening to stories on the record player. Rupert the Bear, Noddy, Enid Blyton—they were a wonder world that always, always allowed me inside. I was never ‘too’ anything for them. I spent many magical hours climbing up and down The Faraway Tree, drawn into a world where everything was safe and predictable.

I knew that ‘one day’ I wanted to write my own stories and that I wanted them to be a safe place for others. I wanted to be a storyteller who speaks the language of hope. For years I wrote, but never shared. When I started sharing, I wrote as bravely and as vulnerably as I could. My goal with each poem, each story, is to write for myself and mostly about my own lived experiences.

When someone finds their way into my words, I am always humbled and grateful. I give my words work to do. They are never to just sit around on the pages of a book, or here on a screen. I write them and then I set them free.

My words are workhorses. There is tender work to be done and I ask them to do just that.

But my words can only reach as far as my honesty allows, and there have been large parts of my life that I have not been brave about. There are many reasons for this, but mostly because I believe that our stories are never just our stories only. There is almost always at least one other person who shares a space with us in that moment. And although I believe in challenging myself to write as vulnerably as I can, I have also felt a need to protect people in my life from the eyes of others. I have known profound intrusion in the past and I know that sometimes people will form opinions that are based on the wrong facts, and I also know the deep impact this can have on a person’s life—on my life.

Lately I have felt a deep pull towards writing with greater courage, more vulnerability, and with even greater focus on the process of the storytelling with no concern for opinion. Whether right or wrong. Just telling the story with honesty and trusting it to find a soft place somewhere. A place where it can speak hope. A place where it will hold encouragement on a plate and say: ‘Eat this. Let it fill you.’

And so, I have decided to write my words naked. Even more than they have been up to now. I want to show you my story, because I want you to know that there is a way out. I want you to know that there is hope and beauty, and that life is a profound gift, and that you can always, always ask for more!

But honesty is not everybody’s cup of tea and some of my words make people uncomfortable. For every five messages I receive saying, Thank you. This is my story too.’, I receive at least one criticising what I believe, how I believe, and what I have written.

Of course, this is the reader’s prerogative and if you are going to share yourself publicly, then you had better have a tough skin, but the reward for vulnerability is so great.

My stories are mine, but I give them to you. I want you to hold them in your hands, let them find a place to land in your life.

I write about having a love-hate relationship with my body, but did you know that I can tell you how to scrape the word ‘fat’ from your skin?

I write about bulimia, but did you know that I can tell you that even when you have conquered it, its voice still lives inside the fluid of every cell in your body.

I write about fear, but did you know that I ate raw fear as a child when my father, whom I loved and feared at the same time, told me he was going to kill me.

Did you know that you can tell people your story and they will still choose to not believe you? Did you know that this is ok?

I want to tell you how to keep your eyes looking for the beautiful things, even when the place you are in is filled with every ugliness that life can throw you at you. It is only a moment. Not your forever.

I write about growing up in a home filled with chaos, but did you know that one night my mother had to defend herself against my father during a fight—an altogether familiar scene, and that he died in our kitchen from the gunshot wound. Did you know that our lives were catapulted into the public eye and there was nowhere to hide? Did you know that I have never written about this?

I can tell you that shame strangles. I can also tell you that you can pry it loose.

I can tell you all these things, but I haven’t, because I have been ashamed and afraid of my own stories, and of my own life. I have never found a place where I simply belong, where I am simply accepted with no agenda and no ulterior motives. I know the fringes; the borders. I know the places that I create with my words.

But in my dreams the water is calling me. For the last while, every time I dream, I dream of water. Puddles, sparklingly clear swimming pools, raging oceans, rain. The water is calling me in my dreams, and the water is calling me in real life. It is calling me to strip the layers, be naked, real, vulnerable, and unafraid.

I want you to know that I want to tell you my stories.

I want you to know that I am unafraid of any opinions.

I want you to know that I don’t know all the ways out, but I know a few and if you want, I want to give you my words to show you that you are not alone.

I want to show you who I am.

Image by Todd Trapani.

Unsplash.

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