let me show you how to let your heart walk out of your mouth.

he tells me how men are made.

first, by breaking everything gentle that ever had a chance to grow towards the light.

as if a man was never grown below a woman’s heart.

then, by searing

the scars with

white-hot

shame.

there are things that he still cannot

say.

his words own him.

but sometimes at night he allows himself to feel everything

that will not leave

his mouth.

it lives there.

large and silent.

this, is how men are made

by other men.

later, i tell my son

who still has sunshine and softness living inside his mouth, that

all his words are naked when they climb up his throat.

they are not to be dressed up,

before they fall like stars

from his tongue.

this is how his heart will walk out of his mouth, one day.

i am building a man, too.

— let me show you how to let your heart walk out of your mouth.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photograph by Kat Jayne.

how to believe in yourself.

of all the words

in the whole wide world,

and there are so many,

the ones

that you

allow

to live

inside your head,

are

the

most

dangerous words

in the whole wide world, so

you

must be

very careful

whose words

you pick up

with

your

bare

hands, and give a home to.

and some words,

especially stray ones,

will try

to make

you

feel

small

and

unimportant, but

you are not small.

you,

are so big

with kindness, and

you,

are so strong

with compassion, and

all your beautiful dreams

have made you

so very tall.

isn’t that amazing?

how big you really are?

so don’t you believe,

not even for a minute,

that you

are not

enough

for your life.

go,

and search for new words,

big words,

happy words,

words that smile at you

when you find them.

eat them up,

one by one,

until the inside

of your heart

is full of you.

—how to believe in yourself.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photograph by Orlando Vera.

Never forget how big you really are.

For someone very special down under, but for all of us too.

liezel

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.