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.

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.

i will take this holiness that walks through walls.

the afternoon shadows are long

and thin.

they climb through my window,

lie down on my bed,

unable to hold

themselves

up.

through the wall i hear my neighbour pray.

his afternoon Asr is a soft, rhythmic breath.

my ears do not know the words that are falling from his mouth.

but still, they fall quietly on my shoulders—made from strong things that i didn’t know i needed.

i wonder if he knows how far his prayer has travelled today, and how much work it has already done.

— i will take this holiness that walks through walls.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photograph by Leah Flaviah.

do you know what my freedom tastes like?

i go to the store for essentails,

eggs,

bread,

and bags

to line the kitcen bin with.

but in the fruit aisle i am seduced by mangoes from a hot country,

and i fall in love

right there.

i touch,

i pick up,

and i smell

the ripeness of the red skin

and

everything that lies beneath.

i have never liked mangoes,

a woman says to me.

they are too messy,

and the juice

stains.

i nod quietly at her truth, but

i also go home to my kitchen where nothing makes sense anymore

since a lifetime ago.

and here, in the afternoon light,

i peel and i slice,

and i cut away,

until

the flesh blooms ripe orange

in my hungry hands,

like the sun,

or truth.

and i eat the fragrant offering,

the juice running down my

chin and onto my shirt.

and i think to myself,

this will leave a mark that cannot ever be removed.

and it tastes like freedom,

and like all the more

that i have been

searching for,

for so long

now.

— do you know what my freedom tastes like?

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photograph by Ruth Currie.

how to love a tired world.

i heard her — a real, live woman with a beating heart,

hidden

deep

inside her disappointment, say

what does it matter how i live, this world is hard, and why should i care about others, and don’t tell me to smile when nobody ever smiles at me.

and i said, i know, but look!

right here there is a field of orange

just for you,

and why don’t you lie down

in its green embrace and breathe.

just for a little bit.

and if you look up, far away, you will see millions of tiny water drops clinging to each other with sheer joy,

and yes,

i know they’re only clouds,

but soon they will pour their life out

all over this field, and

they won’t care about giving themselves away, and they won’t worry about tomorrow,

or whether the earth appreciates their

sacrifice, and

let

me

tell you a secret,

sometimes, love is messy.

but, i love anyway.

i give it away to everyone

who deserves it, and

especially to those who don’t.

because they are the hungriest, and they don’t know how to make it themselves, and

so i give it to them just like rain, with no expectation.

and really, it is so easy to let go of fear, and all the bits of what-will-they-think, that whisper in your ear, and

sometimes, they don’t want my smile, and they have walls that won’t let kindness through, and that’s ok.

i am not afraid of walls, because i have broken down my own from the inside out, and i know how hard it is to do.

but every now and then,

a word from my mouth flies right across a valley, and falls gently on a heart that hasn’t eaten kindness in weeks, and

it is like a rainstorm on a hot afternoon,

and the relief

when those clouds finally break,

is a living,

breathing

thing,

and i don’t think about the mess then, and

i’ll worry about that another day, and who really worries about cleaning when a tired heart blooms bright in front of your eyes, and all it needed was a bit of love?

so, come, leave your heart outside for a bit — right here with the flowers.

i think i smell rain in the air.

— how to love a tired a world.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photograph by Surreyhills Wellness.

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.