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.

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

first person, singular.

i was born a fire walker.

i did not want to feel the skin blister under my feet; smell the scorched offering that i was forced to become, but

the fire still came for me.

i had no choice.

and i have seen many things burn down into nothing.

i have thrown ash into the wind—watched it blow away

all the things that my young mouth promised before i knew that i would fail

at this.

and i have sat down by the rivers of babylon

and i have wept.

over and over,

i have peeled my skin off, only to put it back on in the morning.

i was stretched tight in all the wrong places and nobody knew

but me.

and after all the tears i thought i didn’t have, fell from me like rain,

i stood up,

on my new legs, and

i made tea as a new day birthed itself

inside of me.

i poured water into the teapot, the one with the pink flowers, that you gave to me, and

you have always known how to give beauty to me, despite who i am.

despite what i couldn’t be.

in the soft winter rain i saw a gift of light in the clouds over the old kilpatrick hills, and

a rainbow.

not one, but two.

one for me and one for you.

and i knew the days of pretending were over.

i have stripped them from my back, and i have lost feathers, and skin.

but i have done it.

it is done.

i don’t have to pretend anymore.

the fire came for me and i ate it.

— first person, singular.

© Liezel Graham 2020.

Photograph by Grahame Jenkins.

With a grateful nod to songwriters Brent Dowe and Trevor McNaughton of the Jamaican reggae group ‘The Melodians’, who wrote the song ‘The Rivers of Babylon’.

a new year’s song.

the year is dying in my hands

and

i am filling my apron

with a feather

for hope,

and

tiny bits of tumbled sea glass

for courage.

when the waters rise,

they will not wash over me.

a pinch of faith,

you only need a little,

and

a quilt of mercy

to warm my heart

that

at

times

has

loved

so coldly.

i will guard the spring.

guard it fiercely,

so that only

love

will

flow,

but i know

that i am cut from rough cloth

and

grace

is the bread that keeps me alive,

and you.

so

i will give

and give

and give,

until

we cannot see

who we once were,

for all the love.

that,

is how they will recognise us.

the broken ones.

not the knowledge.

not the perfection.

not the raised eyebrow,

but

the

love.

it’s how i recognised you,

when

all

i had known was failure.

you loved me first,

and

never

stopped.

and i will not worry about

my hips

or

my wrinkles

or

my yesterdays

or

my tomorrows.

i am held.

and because i am the one,

that

one,

who deserves an entire parable.

yes.

the one

who wanders

and

strays

into thickets

and

thorns,

where others see the danger,

i will remember that i was searched for

over and over,

every time

and

i too will

search

when others get lost.

i will not be the pointing finger,

but

the open hand that says,

here i am.

let me be

a light in a glass jar,

shining

in spite of it all.

— a new year’s song.

© Liezel Graham 2018.

Photograph by Anshu A.

{a repost from 2018}.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your tremendous support, your friendship, your encouragement, your willingness to be vulnerable and your courage in sharing your hurts and your joys, here on my page!

You are all so beautiful!

2020 will be a tremendously exciting year for me. I have a recording session lined up in January where I shall be recording a selection of my poems, my second book will be published in March and I have been afforded a wonderful opportunity to teach on vulnerability and creativity in April (more to come on that later in the year).

I shall also be starting a group off this page for those of you who want to explore writing as therapy, or as a healing tool in your own life — a safe space where you can share your writing, ask for feedback from others (or not), enjoy writing prompts and perhaps just find your feet as a writer. More on that in the new year and it doesn’t matter where you are in terms of skill — this will be a space to heal.

I wish you a spacious, honest New Year,

liezel

faith | new names from old.

black birds flying darkly

up

and

down

the spine of my life.

i give them names

that sound like light.

faith

falling

brazenly

from my mouth.

— faith | new names from old.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photograph by Matti Johnson.

Sometimes the black birds of fear, shame and guilt will fly up and down your life… they like to go far back into your past and remind you of all the reasons you have failed. They like to fly into your future and prophecy that things will never work out; that you are not deserving of the things your heart dreams of.

You might listen to what they whisper.

But you don’t have to.

Give them new names—new names from the old ones.

Handmade names that sound like light.

For all the things that you are hoping for, let faith fall brazenly from your mouth.

liezel