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.

elizabeth.

did you know, she said, that i have been so hungry for so long, from birth, i think, that i have fed all the soft parts of me to a hundred, maybe more, and it is never enough when the light breaks, and i am never enough, and only one of us leaves with a full belly and it is never me.

it is never me who knows what it feels like to be enough, to be just right and not too much, or too little, and i don’t know how to get all my pieces back, how do i find myself again, and my heart needs them back, because these holes are too big now and the wind blows right through them, and late at night, when all those people are walking through my head with their hungry bellies and their dirty feet, i can’t sleep for the sound of the wind weeping through those holes, my holes, and right through me, and perhaps it is me, i don’t know anymore…

and all i could say was, i know.

i know.

me too.

— elizabeth.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photograph by Dominika Roseclay.

Friend.

i am not afraid of your darkness or mine, and i have seen it all before, and my ears know the sound of fear all too well, and pain too, and i have walked this road in another life and even yesterday i stumbled over this same stone, and i can find my way out of here for both of us, and i see that you have run out of light? don’t worry—here, let me give you a bit of mine, and

i’ll just break a small piece off right here, and no—it doesn’t hurt at all, and it grows back so quickly and look! now you have some of me inside of you, and i think that means that we’re friends, and i see you, and you see me, and you are just what i have been searching for, come—let me show you the way out of here.

— friend.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photograph by Freestocks.

A freeform verse for a friend going through a hard time. xx

new doves, on old skin.

across the street this morning,

a stranger

blew a kiss

to his wife,

standing in the doorway of their home, and the whole world cracked open.

and just like that,

the light seemed brighter,

and i wonder if i had known that

your words

would settle on my skin

like doves,

gentle

and an offering of love,

or perhaps just peace,

i am not entirely sure yet.

time will tell,

i think.

but, they sit there

quietly

on my limbs, and

when it is dark

i count them

one by one,

and their weight feels good,

like the hands of a man.

and i can breathe again,

for the first time in a long time,

and i inhale myself

through the eyes of another,

and i find myself slowly leaving the back room of my heart,

tiptoeing the dark passages,

feet bare on sacred earth, and

a man blew a kiss to a woman today, and the whole world sighed.

— new doves, on old skin.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photograph by Daria Shevtsova.

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.