the lies we tell ourselves.

a few nights ago, whilst paging through a magazine, i read a letter

by ‘struggling to trust’, penned in desperation to an agony aunt column, and

she writes—this woman with an ancient question burning in her bones—that she had known a man for a long time, since they were not much more than children, and how she had planted love at his feet, in wild faith, as we women sometimes do, but

how he did not notice the fragrance of the flowers that bloomed around her when he was near, but still

she hoped.

for more. for him. for love.

and how they had lost sight of each other over the years, but love is a thing that does not easily die, even if it is only watered by one pair of hands,

and how there came a night where they were in the same place, geographically at least, and how he poured hot words all over her naked skin, and how she gave him her heart in her hands, and

she tells of his kiss, and his mouth and how it lingered on her limbs, and over the softest parts of her, and how he found the secret scar that runs across the half-moon of her right breast,

and she had once fought the darkness, and won, but

he did not know this, and

how his fingers had traced the full length of it, and how his mouth had moved over its landscape, on his conquering path, and how he did not stop to look into her eyes with ‘when’ and ‘how’ and ‘why’ on his lips, and

don’t scars in secret places whisper, there is more here and i am showing you everything that i have hidden from the world, and please look into my eyes and see what i am giving you, and

how the next morning he took all his words with him, and how they didn’t seem to shine as much in the light.

and what she really needed to know was how could she change so that she could be enough for him, and did this mean that he never really loved her?

and the reply came:

tell me…what do you think?

— the lies we tell ourselves.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photograph by Jaymantri.

honey and water.

she said, this man makes me

feel so alive and he is everything

that i have ever wanted, but

still he is not enough, and

still i need more, and

i don’t know what it is, and why do i always have this thirst in the middle of my heart, and how

do i fill it,

if not with love?

and i said, as gently as i could, because some words are spiky and need to be unwrapped with gentle hands, and

i asked my friend, with the father-shaped hole in her heart,

do you know the difference between honey and water?

do you know that there are men who will pour you cups of honey and oh, it will be so sweet on your tongue and you will feel all your holes fill up with golden stickiness, and

for a little while,

perhaps if you are very lucky,

and if you learn this lesson quickly, then

you will only believe this for a short while, and

you will think that honey is

liquid

love,

but it is not.

and it will never be enough.

because honey

will never

quench

your

thirst.

and you need to wait for a man

who is running water,

pure and full of life, who

will pour himself out, and into your cupped hands, and over your head, dripping down into your bones, filling up that thirst in the middle of your heart.

flooding it with the one thing

that always gives life, and

only then will you know the difference between words that fall sweetly from the tongue, and

the men who use them, and

words that will make an ancient thirst go away, and

they are not the same thing.

honey and water.

and what you should really know, is this,

it is not the man

who should heal your heart, and

only one man is shaped like your father, and

no other man can do that,

fill that hole,

and

fix that hurt.

although some men will try,

if their hearts are big enough for two, and

if they love you enough.

but it is not fair to expect a man to lie down in a hole made by another, so that you can walk across him to the other side, and

you have to find your own way out of that hurt, and when you finally manage to swim to the edge of that hole, and

you finally manage to crawl your way out through the mud, only

then will you know the difference between honey and water, and

you will know which men bring life in their hands, and

which men don’t.

and you will never confuse

them again, and

you will teach your daughter

how to sniff the air for the scent of rain, and you will show her how to walk away from things that do not flow over her thirst with life, and

she will know how to swim

to the edge of her pain, and

she will grow strong from climbing out of holes that were made by others, and

she will stand on the edge of that which wanted to drown her,

but couldn’t.

and water will run down her limbs, and drip from her skin, onto the dry dusty ground, until

everything under her feet blooms green.

and this will be your gift to her.

— honey and water.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photograph by Nicholas Githiri.

the kiss.

summer’s light pulls me from my sleep earlier than i had hoped, but still i wake to silence in the house and quietly i rise, feet bare; limbs stretched out  a languid nod to the sun on the green of my mat and later, somewhere between midnight and now, i make breakfast and countless cups of hot assam tea. 

and as the hours slowly walk their way towards home, i teach a small boy how to do addition — if you take one and add it to another, just like this, see how well they fit together, then you have two. and this is how we find each other in the most ordinary of places.

and later, after lunch, i stare for a long while in silence, at the swollen thunderclouds making slate-grey rain fall down on theold kilpatrick hills, and i envy them their freedom to let go, and somehow, somewhere between the soft shell of my earlobe and the horizontal exclamation of my clavicle, my bruised skin remembers your mouth. 

and i wonder how to hide this, but my body will not listen, it never does, and the radio is softly playing that song, do you remember it, and i peel potatoes for dinner, and run hot bubble baths, and all i can do is blush. 

 the kiss.

elizabeth.

did you know, she said, that i have been so hungry for so long, from birth, i think, that i have fed all the soft parts of me to a hundred, maybe more, and it is never enough when the light breaks, and i am never enough, and only one of us leaves with a full belly and it is never me.

it is never me who knows what it feels like to be enough, to be just right and not too much, or too little, and i don’t know how to get all my pieces back, how do i find myself again, and my heart needs them back, because these holes are too big now and the wind blows right through them, and late at night, when all those people are walking through my head with their hungry bellies and their dirty feet, i can’t sleep for the sound of the wind weeping through those holes, my holes, and right through me, and perhaps it is me, i don’t know anymore…

and all i could say was, i know.

i know.

me too.

— elizabeth.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photograph by Dominika Roseclay.

new doves, on old skin.

across the street this morning,

a stranger

blew a kiss

to his wife,

standing in the doorway of their home, and the whole world cracked open.

and just like that,

the light seemed brighter,

and i wonder if i had known that

your words

would settle on my skin

like doves,

gentle

and an offering of love,

or perhaps just peace,

i am not entirely sure yet.

time will tell,

i think.

but, they sit there

quietly

on my limbs, and

when it is dark

i count them

one by one,

and their weight feels good,

like the hands of a man.

and i can breathe again,

for the first time in a long time,

and i inhale myself

through the eyes of another,

and i find myself slowly leaving the back room of my heart,

tiptoeing the dark passages,

feet bare on sacred earth, and

a man blew a kiss to a woman today, and the whole world sighed.

— new doves, on old skin.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photograph by Daria Shevtsova.