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.

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.

when you have changed.

and there might come a day,

unexpected in its light,

where you will have to fight, and

raise your new voice like a victory song,

so that they will hear you, and

although they may have walked

through your life

as a friend

does,

they

will

need

proof

of this (new) change.

this metamorphosis

unauthorised

by their hand.

and it will hurt.

all change does.

but you,

you must be of great courage.

you have grown up

and

you have grown in.

into your skin,

now stretched taut

over all that was once thin.

and your roots have grown strong.

and this new hunger

needs good soil,

so search

until you find the thing

that fills your bones

with joy.

and you have worried

about the leaves that have withered in places.

there is no need to fret

over things that are dying.

death

makes

room

for more, but

they might find this

uncomfortable.

find you uncomfortable to sit beneath,

at once

preferring the sparseness

of who you once were, and

not this new verdant canopy

that obscures their view

of who you are

now.

your rawness will frighten them,

disturb their sense of

right,

and

you

will

be

wrong.

and so,

fight

if you must.

if you must

prove

the worth of your

newness,

then fight.

but know that there are others,

many others.

and on a warm sunny day,

unexpected in its light,

they will stumble upon your presence,

and they will come and linger

in your shade.

and there,

there where the others found nothing

left of any worth,

they,

will find shelter and rest.

— when you have changed.

© Liezel Graham 2019

Photograph by Meve R.

When a friendship dies.

i stood before

you,

holding my fears in

cupped hands;

a petition

for mercy.

and still,

you would not cross

the naked divide

between me,

and

you.

and so i walked

away.

.

.

Your peace is worth more than losing yourself in order to repair a fractured relationship.

When you have scars from deep hurts and you expose them to another person in the hopes of receiving compassion, and they (still) walk all over your sacrifice; walk away dear friend.

Life is full of beautiful souls who will see your scars and honour them for the battles you have been through.