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.

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.

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.

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.