scope

we sit on opposite sides of the waiting room

clutching our middle years

in our hands,

strangers

comparing stories of raising boys

they never seem to stop eating

do they,

from the minute they leave our bodies

so much life fills their skin.

we have given them everything that we have and more, and

perhaps because we are a hospital gown away

from being completely naked with each other,

we also speak

quietly

of the things that they might find

hiding

within our walls, and

how we hope

that they

don’t,

because we have sons to feed, and

we are hungry

to be

in their lives, and

we smile and we laugh

a little

in the shadow of the thing

that has a name

but doesn’t have ours,

yet

we hope

like all the women before us,

we walk barefoot here

in the valley, and

we all lose our shoes when we walk this road,

it doesn’t matter what your name is,

here

in this place,

we all fear the same, and

we follow the nurse to the room where they will tell us

our future

for a moment

you turn away

and i see it in your eyes.

later when i walk out of recovery

orange juice still sweet on my tongue,

i carry words in my hands

that breathe,

words that do not chase

me

yet

you are in the cubicle next to me

the borders that i have just left

behind

i never want to return to this place, and

i see you

curled up

into the shape of a foetus,

asleep

under the weight of the extra peace they pumped into your veins,

statistics say that it had to be one of us

the odds took more from you

than from me, and

i hope that you find the courage to chase away the

dogs of fear.

— scope.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

recently i had my ‘future’ told by a medical team.

i was the fortunate one who walked out with hope in my hands.

xx

Photograph by Leo Cardelli.

i love you.

just as i was swallowing

the impossible blue

of the morning

sky,

the thing that knows my name

crawled

darkly

onto my lap, and

stayed

and for a moment

i was lost in every war

that ever

fought

me.

but you,

you with your three words

strung

on a sling,

your heart in your hands,

a pebble that slays.

— i love you.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photography by Flora Westbrook.

never underestimate the power of three simple words to fight big wars,

liezel

i have made beauty from everything they said was broken.

when i was in labour with you,

all

those

hungry

years of waiting,

the anaesthetist ran his hands gently down my spine.

his voice running over my pain like water,

has anyone ever told you that you have scoliosis?

yes, i nodded, right in the middle of a contraction that felt like it could force continents apart.

a woman knows when she is held up by imperfection.

is that why it hurts so much?

a murmur—yes—a stranger’s fingers moving up and down my vertebrae;

an attempt to tame the thing that was wild within my bones, right from the start, and

later, when the light broke hot pink and wild orange, all over our new life, you were a soft weight on my chest, and i was learning how to keep you alive with all the broken pieces that i had, and

all i could smell was heaven.

it was there in your hair, and in your cries, and the way that your fingers curled around mine, and

how could something like this, ever have been made in the dark?

all this beauty that was built, in spite of a foundation that is still tilted

rebelliously.

— i have made beauty from everything they said was broken.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photograph by Dominika Roseclay.

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.