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.

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.

when the woman learned the lesson once again.

the woman said, i woke up wise one morning a long time ago, after i walked into a man, and got lost, and again today, because i don’t know why, but i forget this lesson so

often, and every now and then, when the child inside me is searching for anything—anyone, to clear the fog from the windows, and when she can’t see out, she searches for someone else to see in, for just a little while,

and i have always been the kind of woman who walks straight into people—i search their eyes, and their smile, and their hearts are open doors to me, but not every open door has a welcome mat on the floor, and why don’t i remember this, it would hurt so much less, and to some i have been skin, and form, a swell of hip and rise of breast, but nothing more and i have searched for the price tag that i may place on my heart in their words, and adjectives will not fill me up, and some people don’t use them often enough—their words, and others, again, use too many—and also too much, of you, and you will get lost in their caves searching for a way out of them, stumbling around in the dark, leaving tiny pieces of yourself on their walls, but i know now,

not to go back to search—for myself, or my heart, and it’s ok, because cave people won’t keep your heart and some of them won’t even know that it’s there, and

if you really want to find yourself, you need to wait for the darkest night when the milky way opens herself up before you like a shy lover, and then you must climb the highest mountain you can find—yes, do this in the dark, and you will skin your knees, and your bones might break, and there will be pain, and even loss, but you will find yourself here, yes you will, and you will be so much more than words that fall like warm honey, and so much more than form and beauty, and swell of hip and rise of breast, and all your lost pieces will return to you, and

even your heart will flutter right out of his cave and come to find you, when the light pours herself out over the horizon and then, when it’s all over and the work of placing your heart gently back where it belongs is done, then you must sit here a while and rest.

talk to the child inside your head and tell her that a woman does not need a string of pearls, or a ring, or the words of a man to hang around her neck, she only needs stars, and the light, and the warmth of her breath to know that she is everything and more, and she is enough.

— when the woman learned the lesson once again.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photograph by Eberhard Grossgasteiger.

courage, dear heart. you can do this.

you’ve changed, haven’t you?

all the truth that you once nailed to the inside of your heart — ran your fingers over every day when nobody was looking — none of it makes sense anymore, does it?

none of it.

and you’ve stared out of windows, and all those tiny cracks in your life, searching for the light, and for that thing that makes it all fall into place, and you’ve found it.

at last.

haven’t you?

and it doesn’t look like what you knew before, and it doesn’t look like anyone else’s, and how do you walk away from all that you’ve known?

and now, you’re afraid.

afraid of walking out your front door wearing your new life, knowing that they might not understand, and you’re lying there in the middle of the darkest thinking hours of the night, hoping they will see how lovely this new life looks on you, but all you can feel is fear.

why?

why are you so afraid of another’s eyes on your heart? have you not scraped enough pain from your skin to feel — to know, that it is ok for you to change? have you not discovered yet, that it is ok to change your mind about things — the biggest things, the smallest things, and even the holiest things.

you can change your mind about anything, really.

really.

because truth has found you in the most unexpected of places, and you have had to grow out of your skin, your birthday, your promises and your life, in order to know that you are only halfway there and suddenly, or maybe not, time has been shy, you realised that the joy that was once blooming in the middle of your heart, is dead, and has been for a while, and that living a lie will not bring it back to life.

only living, will, and

the light is out there waiting for you. waiting just for you to start putting down all the things that no longer fit into your hands, and your bones, and your mouth, and your eyes, and your life is there too, breathing in and breathing out.

with, or without you, and

you might have to undo a vow, or change holy books, or change the way that you have always ticked boxes, and loved yourself, but this can all be done, and

it is scary to stand there, naked from your bones to the tip of your heart, and yes, some of them will not understand, and yes, some of them will not be able to stay, and that is ok.

really, it is.

let them leave.

new people will come.

really — they will, because

do you know how beautiful your truth finally looks on you?

courage, dear heart.

you can do this.

— courage, dear heart. you can do this.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photograph by Kat Jayne.

how to believe in yourself.

of all the words

in the whole wide world,

and there are so many,

the ones

that you

allow

to live

inside your head,

are

the

most

dangerous words

in the whole wide world, so

you

must be

very careful

whose words

you pick up

with

your

bare

hands, and give a home to.

and some words,

especially stray ones,

will try

to make

you

feel

small

and

unimportant, but

you are not small.

you,

are so big

with kindness, and

you,

are so strong

with compassion, and

all your beautiful dreams

have made you

so very tall.

isn’t that amazing?

how big you really are?

so don’t you believe,

not even for a minute,

that you

are not

enough

for your life.

go,

and search for new words,

big words,

happy words,

words that smile at you

when you find them.

eat them up,

one by one,

until the inside

of your heart

is full of you.

—how to believe in yourself.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photograph by Orlando Vera.

Never forget how big you really are.

For someone very special down under, but for all of us too.

liezel

on finding my place.

one starry night, the woman took a walk inside of herself to the quiet places that she loved to visit, and

there, under the karoo sun, she could play barefoot again, unworried about ice and snow and other cold things, and her young hands could tease the

hot earth for tiny fragments of blue glass hidden in the soil, and

one day i will be an archaeologist and i will dig for things — beautiful things, in the dirt, and i will have rooms full of books and i will travel the world and see pyramids and other beautiful, broken things, and we will see each other and smile — the broken things and i — and i will never have to prove that i do know things and they are all wrong about me and perhaps i will finally belong, and i wonder what that feels like, to fit snugly in a place and in a life, like your shape was made to belong, but

some don’t, do they — belong?

and some people aren’t made

to fit into round holes, because they have sharp edges and sharp corners where the loveliest things hide, but not everybody can see this and not everybody knows, and it takes a very long time for a soft, square heart to know that it is ok not to be round,

and i have been scratching in the dust for years to find hope and life and other green things, and

i have grown soft with love for myself, and i still look for fragments and other broken things in places where others see dirt, and

this is my gift — to see the loveliness in a man’s skin, and to hear africa in his voice as our children swim together, here, far from home, and to see hope in the eyes of a woman who crossed deserts and bullets

with children in tow and then

still the oceans, too — what did she know about water so deep and so fierce, other than that it was safer than the hearts from where she ran, and i look for smiles and people who walk straight into you with mouths that bow up to the light, and eyes that sparkle like glass in the sun — these are the things that i search for now, and when i find them, i turn them over, and over, in my hands and when my hunger is satisfied i hide them, deep in a corner, and oh!

you should see all the beauty that i have hidden inside here, on this side of my walls, and finally i belong.

— on finding my place.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photograph by Tim Mossholder.

woman, unhooked.

a man once told me,

if only you were smaller

i could love you — more, perhaps, if there was less

of you.

and if only i had seen

just

how

thin

he was,

in all the wrong places, and

just

how

little

there was to him, and his love,

perhaps

i would not

have lost

so much

of me.

but i was young, and i was soft

in all the right places, and

so i took every one of his words,

and i wallpapered my thighs,

and my hips, and my breasts, and my soul, until i was completely hidden, and it was the 6th day and it was still dark.

and later, others came, and said

you are too tall, and

i cannot see myself

when i am next to you,

and can’t you see that there has to be less of you and more of me, for the bible tells you so,

and

you

must

obey.

until they grew thicker — the layers — until they were walls.

and all i knew was how to live smaller, but never small enough.

until one night i heard my body weep, a year ago, or forty, or it might have been in the beginning when blame fell like blood on the first woman’s shoulders, and i said, no more.

no more will i carry this, and you had better look out, i am here now, and i will throw down this weight, and in the dark i ran my hands over my arms and my legs, and my hair and my toes. and i felt all the things that were stuck there, their hate and mine.

stuck, in all my softness, and i felt my belly — this ripe, round, roof, over this holy space within me that grew a whole child, and you dare say that i am not enough? and i said thank you for this — this life, and for his — this fresh, new life and i said thank you to my heart for beating, and beating, and beating, and never giving up on me,

despite my trying.

and i whispered love to my lungs for the breath, always the breath, that i now find in sacred stretches, and other holy places in the back of my eyes, where they could never, ever see, and i felt my breasts — full of beauty that gave life to a child, and they are not here for your amusement, and neither am i, and i have had enough.

and i ran my fingers over my skin, and my bones, and my past, and my hopes, and i unhooked every thing there — every word and everyone, until there was only

me

left.

here, in the light, and it is good.

— woman, unhooked.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photograph by Kourosh Qaffari.