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

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.

Mrs Garland’s Gift.

Mrs Garland’s gift.

Take everything with both hands and ask for more.’

Sometimes in life, a fortunate stroke of serendipity might allow us to encounter profound wisdom in a quite unexpected place, and moments like these only later reveal themselves as seed for hope.

Such was my good fortune one sunny morning when I was out for a walk in the fresh air of a long-awaited Spring, almost twenty years ago now, but the memory remains fresh in my mind. I was almost at the end of a 2-year treatment regime for Aplastic Anaemia, a serious blood disorder that can be fatal. Although my body had responded well to the treatment, my spirit was struggling. At diagnosis I was told that if the treatment did not work, I would have a 3-month prognosis at best. I was only twenty-five when I fell ill, and I had a future full of dreams ahead of me. What I needed, desperately, was a bone marrow transplant, but no suitable matched donor could be found and so an alternative treatment plan was put into place. As I slowly started to heal, some of the other patients that I encountered at the hospital, did not. At times I felt tremendous guilt for simply having life, coupled with a pervasive fear of the unknown. Why am I surviving this, and others not?  Would the treatment work in the long-term?  Might I relapse? And, the most disabling fear of all, if I were to relapse, would I survive a second time? These questions that plagued my inner-world were not unique. Many people who have battled cancer and other potentially life-limiting diseases have to face the reality of their own mortality, and the sheer vulnerability of life. I was tired of living with fear and I was searching for something—the permission to live, and to enjoy what I had been given.

And so, it was on that bright mid-week morning that I met Mrs Garland, a tiny, frail woman that I placed somewhere in her eighties. She had the loveliest smile and blue eyes that twinkled mischievously when she spoke. As we walked together in the sunshine, we exchanged pleasantries, and talked about the weather as strangers might do, but somehow, within a matter of minutes, the conversation grew deeper than what one would expect from two people who had never met until that day. I felt as if I had been drawn into a quiet place with this lovely woman who seemed to look right into the most afraid part of my heart. As our conversation kept pace with the soft rhythm of our feet on the sidewalk, I found myself telling her about the shock of falling ill, the two years of countless hospital visits, the never-ending blood and platelet transfusions, the countless pills that I had to take every day, the deep sense of loss and guilt that followed me around, and the dark fear that wanted to strangle me at times. Patiently, she listened to my whole story, a quiet nod of her head here and there, and when to my great embarrassment I started to cry, she didn’t once look away, she simply took both my hands in hers and said, ‘Life can be terrifying sometimes, and so unfair, but I decided a long time ago to live my life in only one way. I take everything with both hands, and I ask for more. Always ask for more, and it will come to you!

I don’t remember much more of that day, but I have held onto Mrs Garland’s words like a lifeline.

And ever since that morning, when her wise words were planted so gently in my heart. I have lived my life with both hands stretched out, always asking for more! Always expecting more! And, time has proven her wisdom to be true. Over the years, I have received more than I could ever have dreamed I would be given. Time, the most precious gift of all, but also love, and a beautiful little boy, and a million other things like sunsets, and the song of a blackbird, the fragrance of my tea in the mornings, and poetry to read and fill my soul. And yes, some of what I had been given was hard, and the fear remained for a long time, but still I received it as a gift, and it taught me to live bigger—to live outward, beyond my fears. Not only for myself but for everyone who didn’t get to leave that hospital—I live my life for them, too, and I live it gratefully and with great joy. I slowly learned how to live more vulnerably, and how to show my heart to the world. I now see everything as a miracle, and my heart and hands have never stopped being full.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photograph by Javon Swaby.

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.

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.

Friend.

i am not afraid of your darkness or mine, and i have seen it all before, and my ears know the sound of fear all too well, and pain too, and i have walked this road in another life and even yesterday i stumbled over this same stone, and i can find my way out of here for both of us, and i see that you have run out of light? don’t worry—here, let me give you a bit of mine, and

i’ll just break a small piece off right here, and no—it doesn’t hurt at all, and it grows back so quickly and look! now you have some of me inside of you, and i think that means that we’re friends, and i see you, and you see me, and you are just what i have been searching for, come—let me show you the way out of here.

— friend.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photograph by Freestocks.

A freeform verse for a friend going through a hard time. xx

choose (your) peace.

do not use the stones

that were thrown at you

as ammunition.

.

you can be a strong and peaceful place.

.

if you choose to be.

.

— choose (your) peace.

.

© Liezel Graham 2018.

.

Photograph by Nacho Juárez.

.

{A repost from last year.}

.

If you choose to be, you could be a place of peace and kindness.

.

And choosing to be a place of peace is as much a gift to yourself, as what it is to others, and kindness and peace changes the world — the atmosphere, if you will.

.

And it’s not always, but I believe that it can get easier if we choose kindness as our default setting. Even if the other person does not deserve it — you do.

.

Your heart is a tender place.

Keep it so,

.

liezel