scope

we sit on opposite sides of the waiting room

clutching our middle years

in our hands,

strangers

comparing stories of raising boys

they never seem to stop eating

do they,

from the minute they leave our bodies

so much life fills their skin.

we have given them everything that we have and more, and

perhaps because we are a hospital gown away

from being completely naked with each other,

we also speak

quietly

of the things that they might find

hiding

within our walls, and

how we hope

that they

don’t,

because we have sons to feed, and

we are hungry

to be

in their lives, and

we smile and we laugh

a little

in the shadow of the thing

that has a name

but doesn’t have ours,

yet

we hope

like all the women before us,

we walk barefoot here

in the valley, and

we all lose our shoes when we walk this road,

it doesn’t matter what your name is,

here

in this place,

we all fear the same, and

we follow the nurse to the room where they will tell us

our future

for a moment

you turn away

and i see it in your eyes.

later when i walk out of recovery

orange juice still sweet on my tongue,

i carry words in my hands

that breathe,

words that do not chase

me

yet

you are in the cubicle next to me

the borders that i have just left

behind

i never want to return to this place, and

i see you

curled up

into the shape of a foetus,

asleep

under the weight of the extra peace they pumped into your veins,

statistics say that it had to be one of us

the odds took more from you

than from me, and

i hope that you find the courage to chase away the

dogs of fear.

— scope.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

recently i had my ‘future’ told by a medical team.

i was the fortunate one who walked out with hope in my hands.

xx

Photograph by Leo Cardelli.

how to fight death.

almost half my faith ago,

when i was wide-eyed

and

fresh in my skin,

a man in a white coat said

i think this might be all

that you’ll get, and

then

there will be no more days left,

for you to chase

in wonder.

and the thought that dying

might be difficult,

climbed onto

my lap and

stayed

with

me.

but somehow i was given more, and

ever since then i have run after

every scrap of beauty

that has danced

past me, and

the feel of the ocean on my skin, and the way that yellow freesias smell like joy, and the taste of the first cup of coffee in the morning, and the curve of my son’s nose against my breast as he nestled to feed in the dark, and the smell of rain after a drought, and the

way that my heart can still make

room for more love, and

how much courage

it takes to trust,

again

and

again, and

every time that fear

told

me

to

sit down,

i said no,

and i stood up.

and this is how i came to know

that living,

is the more difficult thing

to do.

not everybody knows

that dying is easy.

we are all doing it,

right now,

without even trying.

but

do

you

know

how to look fear in the eye,

and

say,

how beautiful is this day,

and i think i shall

enjoy it

very

much

to be

alive,

if only for a little while

longer.

— how to fight death.

(for djs with all my love).

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photograph by David Boca.

womb.

i have always been

a misfit

and

a rebel,

a dweller on the fringe,

a woman who refuses

to submit, or

fit

into a box,

and

why do i always have to ask

so

many

questions, it makes you uncomfortable, and

angry,

and,

why can’t i just obey?

it is a woman’s place,

don’t you know, because

the bible tells me so, and

does He still love me,

the song says He may, but

you

say

no, and

honestly, i don’t know anymore.

and there are times,

at least 365 moments in a year, where i wonder if it would be easier

to just give in

and

be

what you want me to be, but

already i can feel the weight

on my bones, and my heart knows

that it is strong enough

to hold,

what i once thought

was truth, up to the heavens

and say,

this is not enough, and

there are people here who need to be loved, and you say

no.

but, hear me now

this is not enough.

can you hear me?

we are not being enough.

and i have examined holy words,

hoping to knit them into a blanket,

soft and big enough

to cover the naked heart

of a broken woman, but

it was too

flimsy,

and

threadbare.

and they said,

all the holy ones,

that she should be left

on the other side of the road, because her sin is too great,

and we know best.

and i said,

(but nobody cared

what I thought),

hasn’t this been done before?

in another time and place,

and didn’t someone write

it down on a scroll,

perhaps whilst eating of

the bread and the wine,

and didn’t God decide

that it was not enough?

but i am wrong, they say.

what do i know.

i am just a woman, after all

and where is my husband,

and i do not belong

to the council — that holy club,

where decisions are made

about

wombs

and

other

uncomfortable words

that walk around on two legs

in the dead of the night,

rape

and

incest, and

how they may only be managed by men,

and we must protect life, but

when there are two,

who wins?

not me.

not girls

not women,

only men, it seems.

and,

also there was that scene

a long time ago,

and,

also yesterday

and today

and tomorrow,

where a woman was caught,

and still is, every day, everywhere

red-handed in sin, and

perhaps you have heard about her?

and of course,

there must have been another,

a man,

but we don’t hear about him at all,

and

she was caught sinning.

a different sin to theirs, and

there was no love on that day,

either, only

rocks

and

laws

but Mercy was there,

quietly

sitting in the dust,

singing a love song over her,

that woman,

me.

but,

i think we don’t know

the words to that song anymore, and

all we know now

is that we are not free, and

girls will know,

and

women will know,

we are not free.

and here i sit

holding

your truth in my hands, but

it is not mine anymore,

and you are disappointed,

i know.

but i have folded it

into halves

and

again

into quarters,

in the hope

that i might make it small enough

to fit into my pocket,

so that i can take it out with me

and

shake it out on a cold night

to cover a naked woman,

or a child,

who has had everything stolen

from her,

but it is still not enough.

and i think

we are all cold, now.

— womb.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

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.

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

this is (already) heaven on earth.

today, i saw an old man walking with his wife. his turban a flash of bright orange — everyday holiness on an ordinary afternoon, and i saw daffodils — a sea of brazen yellow — just waiting to be noticed, despite the throng of traffic, and tired people chasing lists of things to do, and to buy, and to get through, before they can live, and the sky was a van gogh blue that hasn’t shown its handsome face around here since last september and it made my head dizzy with joy as it shouted hope is here, hope is here. just look up!

and a man with very little money, gave me a smile — he was that rich — and i gave him one of mine as i bought his magazine full of brave stories, and a father was swimming with his little girl and i saw tenderness wrapped in strength and one small heart was safe today, and it was good. and a man from another faith taught my son to swim — gently and patiently, he made miracles happen in my boy’s brain, and later at the shop there were rare, bright jewels in the fruit aisle, although some people call them pomegranates, and the aroma from the bakery was heaven on the breeze, and how i love the way my nose can smell, even though someone once said that it is too big, and unpretty, but i do not care, it works so well, how can i worry about opinions that do not love me.

and another man said this world is going to hell and look at this mess they’ve made, and how can we ever find peace this side of heaven, and i said but look! look — i am wearing my scarlet lipstick and my toes are pretty too, in red — do you know what i have seen and survived to be brave enough to wear these colours, and to tell of joy, and light, and maybe this is already heaven and we need to look up, and around, and sometimes even down, but especially inside, so that we can find the thing that sings in the dark and says, see, it is not too late, take off your shoes on this sacred ground, and all the earth is, you know. and can you even remember how the grass feels under your feet, and just listen to the breath dancing in your chest and do you know how precious that is?

how much it is worth?

just hold out your hands, don’t be shy — and ask for more, and it will come, if you believe.

but you must believe, this doesn’t work so well if you don’t, and neither will you, or your heart, and i am not sure you know this yet, but you are so beautiful, inside and out, and one day you will know it, really know it, when you walk straight into love, as we all will, but until then open the windows and sing.

— this is (already) heaven on earth.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photograph by Amin Imanifar.