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.

woman, unhooked.

a man once told me,

if only you were smaller

i could love you — more, perhaps, if there was less

of you.

and if only i had seen

just

how

thin

he was,

in all the wrong places, and

just

how

little

there was to him, and his love,

perhaps

i would not

have lost

so much

of me.

but i was young, and i was soft

in all the right places, and

so i took every one of his words,

and i wallpapered my thighs,

and my hips, and my breasts, and my soul, until i was completely hidden, and it was the 6th day and it was still dark.

and later, others came, and said

you are too tall, and

i cannot see myself

when i am next to you,

and can’t you see that there has to be less of you and more of me, for the bible tells you so,

and

you

must

obey.

until they grew thicker — the layers — until they were walls.

and all i knew was how to live smaller, but never small enough.

until one night i heard my body weep, a year ago, or forty, or it might have been in the beginning when blame fell like blood on the first woman’s shoulders, and i said, no more.

no more will i carry this, and you had better look out, i am here now, and i will throw down this weight, and in the dark i ran my hands over my arms and my legs, and my hair and my toes. and i felt all the things that were stuck there, their hate and mine.

stuck, in all my softness, and i felt my belly — this ripe, round, roof, over this holy space within me that grew a whole child, and you dare say that i am not enough? and i said thank you for this — this life, and for his — this fresh, new life and i said thank you to my heart for beating, and beating, and beating, and never giving up on me,

despite my trying.

and i whispered love to my lungs for the breath, always the breath, that i now find in sacred stretches, and other holy places in the back of my eyes, where they could never, ever see, and i felt my breasts — full of beauty that gave life to a child, and they are not here for your amusement, and neither am i, and i have had enough.

and i ran my fingers over my skin, and my bones, and my past, and my hopes, and i unhooked every thing there — every word and everyone, until there was only

me

left.

here, in the light, and it is good.

— woman, unhooked.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photograph by Kourosh Qaffari.

the old man at the door saw me.

today, on our way to a place

that holds joy for my son, i saw an old house — falling apart, but held together, somehow, by a hot pink camellia bleeding joy, brazenly onto the walls and the front of the sidewalk, and nobody saw this sign, but

i did.

and later, i saw an old man at a door, checking tickets, and i started to breathe the word autism, hoping for more than we need, and he saw my eyes, and my heart, and my fear, and my boy, and he said, aye, you’re alright, and enjoy — in that big scottish way, and he gave me a smile, and his light, that said, see! it’s going to be alright, wait and see, and

my child — barely ten and a few sleepless nights fresh from my womb, stood in the shadow of something that breathed 150 million years ago when the land looked so much different, and

life was more peaceful, i think, and he was in awe at those bones, and i stood there smiling at my cup spilling over, right here and right now, but not everyone can see through the mess, sometimes — these miracles that find me — stars, that guide me all the way home, and

last night when i was afraid of undressing my heart, and my words were more salt, than they were light, a friend said, it’s ok, no need to explain or apologise, your journey home is yours, and yours alone, and i carried her gift all night until the sun rose fresh over my life again.

and people have been climbing out of closets, and boxes, and other locked rooms for centuries, have they not? and still, life breathes and breaks new every couple of hours, but not everyone sees, but

i do.

and i look for the way that God breaks wide open in a face, in a smile, and the way that eyes can lift a heart right out of the mud and the dark, and how so many roads lead home, and i walk them, wandering here and there, and would you know? that,

everywhere i go i find others who hear the same silence, weaving songs from notes as ancient as bone, and who are not afraid of hands that flap and fold like birds, flying up, to heaven and back.

they, who keep watch over windows, and doors, and other ways into a soul — who hold up the walls that are crumbling, with light, and who say, aye, you’re ok, it’s going to be alright, just you wait and see.

— the old man at the door saw me.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photograph by Juan Pablo Arenas.

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.

the thing that gave you joy, is (still) waiting.

do you still have that dream?

the one that you have been dressing and,

undressing

since you were little.

breathing in the joy

of knowing that

this,

this beautiful thing

belongs to you,

and

only you, but

then

they made

you build a fence

around the thing

that makes you happy.

keeping you out,

and away

from it.

your

face

pressed

right up against the magic,

but

not

close

enough.

did they say,

who do you think you are,

and

that will never happen,

and

you are not like them,

you are like us,

and

people like us don’t dream.

and,

you

think

you

are

so much better than us.

but

you

are

not.

do you remember it now?

i thought you might.

the voices

are pretty much the same,

no matter who you are,

or who you were,

once-upon-a-time.

and that fence

might be overgrown by now.

mine was.

and it might be higher

than it seemed

when you still believed

in dreams.

that happens.

so, don’t you worry

about

weeds,

and thorns,

and strangling things,

that can be cut back,

ripped out,

and

broken down.

that will be the easy part.

what i want to know,

and this,

is really the most important part,

do you still hear their voices?

because

that is where the lie started,

and

that is where the lie must end.

so

turn

your

back,

dreamer, yes

you must

if you are still searching

for that thing

that made you feel alive, and

it will need some care, and

a little bit of love,

but it will live

if you want it to.

so, this is what you do.

you listen for another voice,

and

it is quiet

and

it is soft,

so listen carefully.

it says i-believe-in-you things, like

you can,

and

i know you can do this,

and

what a great idea,

and

you are just the right one for this,

and,

let

me

tell

you

something else.

sometimes,

there is a lot of noise

when fences come down,

and

when dreams go up, so

don’t you mind this.

it will die down,

and

you will grow up,

and

you will grow out,

and

you will find your way again.

because

the thing that gave you joy,

is (still) waiting (for you), and

the light on your skin

will be beautiful

and warm,

and

one day,

sooner than you think,

you will walk

straight into yourself,

again.

— the thing that gave you joy, is (still) waiting.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photograph by Matheus Bertelli.