on tending hearts and soil.

gardeners — the ones who like to get their hands really dirty — are some of my favourite people in the whole world.

they are only concerned with what is growing outside their own front doors, but their hearts are big enough to encourage the smallest effort at planting-and-hoping-for-life.

they know that most of us just need water, food, a place for our roots, and lots of love and light — and then the magic happens.

they know that fruit trees, and flowers all have their place and that we are all different, but rooted the same, and

they spend all their energy tilling the soil they have been given, and sometimes the soil that has been taken from them, too, and they know that bad soil, much like a heart, can be fixed by adding a bit of this, and removing a bit of that, and

that good soil can wear out if it isn’t given a chance to rest.

and gardeners know that a little bit can be too little, and a lot can be too much, and that life lies in having just enough of what we need, and when we have more than we could ever use, we need to give it away, or it will rot, right there in our hands, and that sometimes the more we harvest, the more we get.

they know that plants are greenest where they are watered and cared for, and

they live each day by the seasons — to a gardener, every season has a beauty, and a function, all of its own — to everything there is a season,

and it all belongs in the big plan.

they have enormous hearts — the biggest, really, that delight in seeing life, reach for the light, through dark soil, and

they know how to push through a bad harvest, or a harsh winter, or a drought that will kill the joy right out of a heart — they know how to look for hope, and for life, and even for signs that it’s over — and it’s important to know when something is over.

doors need to be closed, as much as opened, sometimes.

and these are my people, the ones with dirt under their fingernails and hope in their eyes, even when that hope is held by a single thread, or a tiny seed, and mustard seed is good for hope, i’ve heard it said, and

it only takes one — seed, or heart, either one will do — to get a plant growing, and a mountain moving, and a heart believing that there is more.

it only takes one, and that’s when the magic happens.

— on tending hearts and soil.

Photograph by Gelgas.

A little freeform writing this afternoon, on one of my favourite things in the world,

liezel

going home.

it has almost been a week.

almost seven days without you.

almost seven days of not being able to call you and hear you say my name.

this afternoon i lay down on the floor. wrapped in a blanket and my tears, i went home.

to you.

the garden gate still squeaks on its hinges and i stumbled on that crack in the front path.

how many times have i tripped there?

there was rain-water in the metal drum where i used to play as a child, and tadpoles. how i loved the tadpoles. do you remember?

the light on the purple jacaranda tree was full of bees.

you would like that, and the front porch was freshly polished; red and shiny.

the old front door knew my face.

knew that i too, belong, and even though i did not want them to, all the memories that are now part of my bones, came out to play. tenderly, they touched my face and my tears, or was that you?

was that you.

and you were everywhere.

down the stone stairs into the kitchen, i walked and i saw bowls of hot pea soup and my fingers frozen from a night watching shows at the fringe.

do you remember how much i loved the arts festival?

how i would spend winter nights walking through the streets, eating the colour and the sounds and the sights.

only to return to you.

my compass.

and in the back garden, the lemon tree stood there. wondering where you are.

and i said, she is here, and she is not.

and my heart does not know what to do.

can i just sit here for a little bit longer?

here, by the kitchen window where the late afternoon light likes to sneak in.

this has always been my favourite spot.

here, with you, drinking warm cups of tea, i could see forever.

and every hurt was wrapped in kitchen-love.

and it was all that i ever needed.

this rich, never-ending love.

and you are here, but you are not.

how can this be.

— going home.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

This afternoon, after a quiet, but tearful half-an-hour of meditation, I took a walk.

And somewhere between here, and not, I walked down my Ouma’s garden path and found her old house full of her and me and other lovely things that I have stored in my bones.

And it was good.

things to do when you are grieving.

on a sunny morning

in

the

middle

of my grief,

we stumble upon a new playground.

swings and roundabouts,

seesaws

and

margery-daws, and

push

me

higher

mom, and

suddenly

young laughter

making funny faces

at all of this sadness.

how beautifully life carries on.

— things to do when you are grieving.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photograph by Levi Damasceno.

musings on grief.

when you have lived your

whole life,

whole and at peace,

in one place.

does the soil remember you?

.

the old plum tree in the

back garden,

heavy with pink promise.

will she miss the sound of your voice, too?

.

and the gnarled jacaranda

on the front path,

blushing brazen purple every spring.

will she long to feel your hands

as night begins to sing?

.

and then,

there is more.

.

there is you

and

there is me

and

there is

this love.

.

this

love.

.

what about this?

i wonder,

will it remember

us?

.

—musings on grief.

.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

.

Photograph by Irina Iriser.

.

.

My Ouma lived her whole life in the same small town in the Eastern Cape, South Africa.

.

She spent most of her married life and after my Oupa died, in the same house. A house that she adored.

.

There is an old plum tree that bears masses of sweet plums and a gnarled jacaranda tree that covers the front garden with a carpet of purple blossom every spring.

.

This old house and garden have been a part of my life ever since I can remember.

.

Today’s poem is more free-form musing than poetry, but I hope it speaks to someone else who might be on the same journey as me.

.

My heart is much lighter since Sunday when my Ouma left us and I have a great deal of peace,

.

liezel

the first day of grief.

has it been a day, yet, or

forever?

i cannot tell.

time has died for me,

as well.

i shall look for you everywhere,

today

and

thereafter,

until.

and when the grief is too much,

i play Bach

and

i get lost in a forest of cellos.

but i can’t linger here,

i must think of practical things like library books and what’s-for-lunch-Mom and

does-Nana-have-wings-now?

on the outside, they keep me upright when my inside,

is fractured.

you have gone

to i-don’t-know-where,

or,

as we like to call it,

heaven.

but

you

are

gone.

and i will look for you,

everywhere.

it is sunday.

the first day of grief.

— the first day of grief.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

My darling Ouma left us yesterday afternoon.

I am heartbroken.

Thank you for the messages and kindness you have shown me here,

liezel

Photograph by me.

Anna, means grace. (It’s time to say goodbye).

I lit a candle for you, today.

Only one. If you live right, one light is enough.

Every time the tiny flame sputtered and died, I lit another. It still burns, even now, as I write with the sun almost at your door, and the moon, at mine.

The candle’s light kept me company as I peeled carrots for lunch—I know you’d appreciate that—the spirit keeping vigil whilst the hands are busy with the ordinary task of preparing food for a child. You were always so good at that. Filling tummies and hearts.

Remember how you showed me how to peel a potato so that the peel was almost as thin as tissue paper? Your face a study of quiet pride as your knotted fingers struggled not to yield to arthritis. I remember.

And how you used to walk with me to the other side of town, whenever I came to visit in the school holidays, just so that I could see the museum for the hundredth time. If you only knew the joy that gave me. The escape from the agony that was school. Of not fitting in no matter how hard I tried. Although, I think you do. You, were always my safe place. I remember.

And how you used to lift me out of that ancient cast-iron bath? The water never stayed warm in it. The blazing heat from the gas-heater warmed that small bathroom and small children too, on those icy nights.

Now, the flesh has faded from your bones and you are the one needing strong arms to hold you up and Winter has come, once again.

And I am not sure my heart can ever be warmed up again.

The years have been kind to you. But, time? Time, has been cruel. It has taken so many people that you have loved. And how you loved! I hope that they are all there, waiting for you when you walk through that door.

I hope.

Do you remember how I loved to play in the shade of the old Cape Rough-skin Lemon tree outside your kitchen door? How I loved that tree. And those lemons. And nobody could make lemon curd like you could. If I close my eyes, just like this, I can taste the sweet tartness on my tongue.

And when you were the first to look cancer in the eye and I gave you a card that said ‘Don’t give up’. As if you would.

And then, when it was my turn to face a doctor’s words, you gave it back to me. ‘Don’t give up’, you said.

As if I would. With your stubborn Irish genes in my DNA.

And now, here I am. On the other side of the world. I picked up my roots like a skirt and stepped gingerly onto another continent. Home, but not quite. I wonder if the women in my bones remember that their blood was once a part of this land. Do they remember me?

I am home, but not quite. Just like you.

And as I give my son his lunch, I teach him about nouns and how they name things, like ‘Ouma’.

We haven’t talked about adjectives yet, but I have so many that walk hand-in-hand with you, my Ouma.

Strong. Brave. Gracious. Wise. Loving. Loyal. Courageous. Faithful. Funny. Beautiful. Kind. Hopeful.

Soon, you will leave this place. It’s ok. I know that you’re tired. It’s been a long, hard season for you, and they are waiting.

They’re all there waiting for you. And I hope that there is a lemon tree. And new, strong bones and blue eyes, bright with new life.

And I shall be ok. It will hurt like hell. I cannot lie. It will be a searing pain that will leave a mark, but I shall be ok.

You know that.

I lit a candle for you, today.

It still burns as I wait.

The moon is here with me and so is the light.

…and I shall wait.

It’s ok, now. You can take off this life. It’s a bit frayed around the edges. You’ve worn it well.

But it’s time to go home, soon.

It’s ok.

I’ll see you on the other side.

— Anna, means grace. (It’s time to say goodbye).

© Liezel Graham 2019.

ancestors.

a friend

and

i,

were talking about

fears

and how they are

there, but

they hold no passport

and

so,

we don’t know

which

body

they

belong to,

forever guessing

their country

of

origin,

questioning

how

they

settled

in

our

neural

pathways.

and,

i said that

i believe

we carry

ancestral memories

in our

dna,

and they too,

have no

body

of origin,

but still,

they

exist

in

my

cells

as this deep love

for rain,

and

the sound of the ocean,

and

the feel of water

on

my

limbs

as

i

metamorphosise

into

a

fluid

being,

unusual

in one born

in

may,

a sign of the earth.

yet,

somehow

there is water

flowing

deep

within

my

bones,

and

i wonder

whose

memories

i carry

within my body,

and

whose

breath

will

one day

carry

my

love

for

the sea.

— ancestors.

© Liezel Graham 2018.

Some days, a poem will just birth itself almost instantly — an opening of the door and a silent entering.

Waiting to be put onto paper.

A dear friend and I, were having a conversation about irrational fears and it started me thinking on irrational loves and how we sometimes love things that are inexplicable when compared to our family. I have always believed that just as we carry genetic disease, we carry ancient memories in our DNA and perhaps this explains our fears and deep loves. xx