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.

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.

a deconstruction of us.

walk me back

to the beginning of us.

from — a deconstruction of us.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photograph by Rahul.

This is a line from an as yet, unpublished poem.

I have left it as is — no further explanation as to the ‘why’, but there is of course, an invitation to the reader to finish that sentence in their head and in their heart.

Love is always a daring journey — a risk that requires vulnerability, courage and the willingness to be hurt.

Love deeply.

Love extravagantly.

liezel

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.