how many ways are there to love?

i slice perfect circles every day

for years

the shape is important

it keeps your world

safe

carrots for your lunch, and

a yellow apple

the sweetness

for after

always the same

they said this would be hard

on my heart, but

here we are

you and i so far up this mountain

that i cannot hear their voices anymore

they didn’t tell me that love

would fall from my hands

at lunchtime,

without carrying a single word.

— how many ways are there to love?

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photography by Monicore.

my son eats a handful of foods.

the same ones for years, now.

this is not uncommon in #autism.

initially—in the very early years, just after diagnosis, this scared me.

now, it is who he is.

we have our own language of love.

words are superfluous.

x

i have made beauty from everything they said was broken.

when i was in labour with you,

all

those

hungry

years of waiting,

the anaesthetist ran his hands gently down my spine.

his voice running over my pain like water,

has anyone ever told you that you have scoliosis?

yes, i nodded, right in the middle of a contraction that felt like it could force continents apart.

a woman knows when she is held up by imperfection.

is that why it hurts so much?

a murmur—yes—a stranger’s fingers moving up and down my vertebrae;

an attempt to tame the thing that was wild within my bones, right from the start, and

later, when the light broke hot pink and wild orange, all over our new life, you were a soft weight on my chest, and i was learning how to keep you alive with all the broken pieces that i had, and

all i could smell was heaven.

it was there in your hair, and in your cries, and the way that your fingers curled around mine, and

how could something like this, ever have been made in the dark?

all this beauty that was built, in spite of a foundation that is still tilted

rebelliously.

— i have made beauty from everything they said was broken.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photograph by Dominika Roseclay.

my words are always making poems.

the poet fears the loss of words to rearrange on paper, and

there are many places in the heart that a drought can happen, but

last night i told my son a story before sleep claimed him from me,

and he laughed,

and laughed.

his mouth a happy moon in a dark night, and

this morning my words carried the sun on their shoulders as they left my mouth to call him back, and

he heard, and smiled in his sleep.

that is how far they can travel when they do not need my

permission.

the poet fears the loss of words that will obey her on paper, but

see how many quiet ones slip out when she is not looking, but

they will not be shaped into poems where they do not want to live.

no.

some words are made to fall all over sleep-soft skin.

they are made entirely of love.

— my words are always making poems.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photograph by Magda Ehlers.

let me hold your hand a little bit longer.

at the end of a long walk

we come upon a split

in the path.

i know these woods like i know the contours of my son’s face.

i should not be afraid to let

him run ahead,

i know this.

but he shares my brother’s name, and i cannot see beyond the trees today.

i have lost so many things;

misplaced so much,

that my hand will not let go of his.

not yet.

— let me hold your hand a little bit longer.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

I wrote this poem after a walk in one of our favourite woods this morning.

Today, is nine days without my brother and this afternoon, in a phone call back home, I listened to my Mom’s heartache at trying to find her way around a new normal without her son.

Learning to let go is a hard thing.

x

Photograph by Lisa Fotios.

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.

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.

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.