swimming in deep water.

at the leisure centre

through the revolving doors

i walk

i wear my favourite jeans

the ones that lift

and support

there are parts of me

that need help

staying up

even after all these years of

strong

i come from a place only i know the scent of

i strip away

my coat

my shoes

i am on holy ground

a rain damp hat

knickers

too

everything that hides

me from the truth

of other bodies

them from me

me from you

i walk on feet

afraid

naked

almost

still

our eyes find each other

in all this wetness

and

we talk

we are strangers

in this great daring thing

together

we throw words to each other

like bright balls

catch and throw

catch and throw

your turn now

now my go

can i show

you

a little bit more of

me

when last has a stranger seen

the pale

of my skin

the dimples on my thighs

that grew with my pregnant

belly

but never left

twelve winters my hands have

felt them every night

just before i yield

reproving

as if my whole life is held

hostage

by the plumpness of my legs

that have carried me

bravely

through doors

and

far away from war

when we have finally shown

each other

enough

we undo the babysoft skin

of our courage

and

leave

revolving outward

into winter

later

quite by chance

we see each other in the

bread aisle

fingers carefully looking for

something sweet

our eyes do not meet

for more than

a second

they can’t

we are wearing far too many layers now.

— swimming in deep water.

© Liezel Graham 2020.

Photograph by Stefano Zocca.

my granny’s arms were soft and strong.

on the floor of my grandmother’s bathroom, there is a heater spitting blue gas flames into the damp air.

i am about three years old.

i am not afraid of winter howling outside, trying to claw its wet way in through warped window frames.

not yet.

my granny lifts me from the warm, fragrant water onto the cold edge of the roll top bath.

‘careful, ouma’s got you’.

small feet happily balanced, i am taller than her for a moment—my favourite part—my arms find the papery curve of her neck. i cling to her; my face inches away from all the softness that walks out of her mouth whenever she says my name.

she covers me in baby powder from my toes to my head—a grandmother’s talisman.

years later, whenever i am asked to describe my favourite smell, i say ‘baby powder and the smell of rain’.

in that small bathroom, her arms are still firm and strong, and i am still able to trust being lifted up and held safe.

— my granny’s arms were soft and strong | i was held.

© Liezel Graham 2020.

Photograph by Siddarth Bhogra.

how to climb out of a foxhole.

when i find myself walking on a beach again,

sand soft and ocean lapped,

i shall be brave.

braver than i have ever been.

run into the water without a thought

of how i might look

to anyone passing through

on their way home from war.

aren’t we all?

hiding from each other

in foxholes all day

in plain sight.

i shall allow my hands

the freedom to throw joy

into the foam of the green, and

i shall not use them as a holy covering for all the parts of me that are hungry

to feel cool air salted with joy, and

the ordinary blessing of water.

do i really need to earn this right?

i refuse.

pale and dimpled in secret places,

i am a velvet map

to a place called courage.

it turns out,

that despite all my hiding from others,

and me,

that i have been naked all my life,

anyway.

aren’t we all?

and i am slowly dying.

ever since my birth,

time is slowly being taken

from me

and all the nights

that i did not walk into love

feet bare, fingers searching,

has been loss.

the weight of it all was enough

to make me walk away

and live.

— how to climb out of a foxhole.

© Liezel Graham 2020.

Photograph by Jordan Donaldson.

thoughts on failure.

let your failures leave you a better person, not a bitter person.

you are not alone in failing.

let the mistakes you have made—all of them—even the big ones, especially the big ones, leave you as one who will walk back to search for the one who needs help.

you are not the only one who has been lost.

everyone says let go of your failures—let go of your past. i say, all the things you wish you could undo in your life—those three am regrets? don’t let them go. hold onto them, but hold onto them loosely, so that you will always remember what it feels like to get it wrong.

because you are not the only one who has to fight off their past.

don’t let shame define you, but don’t forget the taste of it in your mouth.

give others what you needed when you were on your knees, with your back against the wall.

do this without any ulterior motive.

just be kind.

kindness, compassion and love like to get their hands dirty. they’re not ones for standing around looking holy.

so, take your hurts, take your memories, your failures and your regrets, and go out there and be a safe place for others and give them grace like it’s water.

you hold light in your hands and hope in your mouth.

and you might be the only one doing so.

this is how we change the world. this is how we save lives.

— thoughts on failure.

Photograph by Ander Burdain.

this is not my usual style, but things that need to be said.

liezel