a red house in a flat land

I come from a flat land, a long, flat valley.

A ridge of mountains and hills rises in the west.
A river works its way, as rivers do,
from those hills, across farmland, to the sea,
flooding when the rains are heavy, and the seas run high.

One long straight road runs the length of this plain,
from south to north,
passing through townships,
that spread out on either side.

This flat land, where trees are a feature, two storied houses a novelty.

what effect does this horizontal landscape have on the soul?
is the only way, up and out
or to dig deeper?

I was taken to a city surrounded by hills,
cushioned in their green embrace, some might say,
or restrained, contained,
depending on your point of view.

I had a friend who would leave town every chance she got,
driving up and over those hills
to the wide open spaces of yet another flat land,
where she felt she could breathe.

I would head to the coast,
and stand watching the sea stretching ahead to the horizon.
I’d hold my breath and imagine drifting away,
across impossible distances to invisible lands, Chile or Peru.

When I go home to the land of my father,
I travel south to north,
and I pass an old farm building,
just past the town I was born in.

Its been falling down for all the years that I’ve been driving past it,
clinging on to its place,
held up by weeds and lichen and rust,
keeping its head up, for the photographs of strangers.

A rarity with stairs going up to an empty landing and a second floor.
If I lived here, I could climb those stairs and watch the sunset
watch the clouds building up over the western hills
watch the traffic heading north and south.

Empty windows and collapsing walls
would make for a quick escape
but maybe these open spaces mean
you would never feel confined.

Now its for sale
along with its own expanse of flat land,
just over eight hectares.
I read that its known as “the red house”
built in the 1870s, an “icon” of the area.
Fame has reached its doorstep,
its hand is on the door.

As soon as its sold
I hope there’s a storm
I hope the wind and rain bring it down
before some shiny-shoed developer
has their way with it.

This old girl needs the dignity of being dismantled by the elements
not to be pushed over by some anonymous digger.
And I hope some builder of a tiny-house sneaks in,
and takes the wood to reuse in their own home,
reds and yellows to brighten their days.

what effect does this horizontal landscape have on the soul?
is the only way, up and out, or to dig deeper?

well, there’s room here to expand
a soul has room to see in all directions, to turn and breathe and stretch
to build its own way up, to reach for stars and clouds
to dig into the earth, to plant, and grow, and harvest
or to discover how to swim, as it flows south with the river to the sea

this flat land
its expansion all the way
in which ever direction
you need to follow

©clairegriffin2018

 

Winter’s Voice

Winter speaks in many voices
the languages of stars, of birds
of wind and rain
and the small dark hollows under trees

she writes her prayers with clouds
she spells the names of dark nights
with the rare bare branches
of this evergreen land
a vegetal alphabet
on her tongue

thunder her drum
lightning her torch
she curses her way across the sky

Winter speaks in many voices

~

today she is sleeping
and all I hear is her slow rhythm
breathing in, breathing out

the canopies of trees swell gently
heads pressing softly together
and Winter rests
cradled in their arms
her cool lips brush
across the tips of leaves

~

today she is weeping
all day her tears have fallen
who does she cry for
what love is lost
how can I hold her
when she slips away
her song riding on the wings of birds

~

today she smiles
and sighs
the day is bright
the sun low, and reaching
deep between branches
Winter whispers to the leaves
naming each one
child, beloved

~

she weeps
tears freeze
her eyelashes brittle and snap in the wind
arms, hair, fists flail across the sky
fury unleashed, and undirected
great gobs of spittle cast against windows

~

she weeps
but these tears cleanse
rinsing dust and dirt and spit
from every branch and leaf
until the world
shines

~

she weeps
she thrashes in her sleep
ripping bedsheet and blanket

she roars
throws dishes across the kitchen
blocks the sink and floods the floor
she breaks the windows and runs barefoot
and bleeding into the night

~

today is fine
still and sunny
quiet

she has brushed her hair
and dressed for lunch
in blue and yellow
she sits with one elbow on the table
wrist arched back
as she might if a cigarette was held between her fingers
she is quiet
reading and tracing the pattern on the tablecloth
with one hand

~

today is fine
blue sky, high clouds
she is silent

~

tonight
she sings
as her daughter
drops her head
slips the cloak of darkness
across her shoulders
and makes her escape

and in the morning
she sings up the sun
whispers into the ears of snails
her voice circling in the spiral hallway
whispering into the quiet spaces between petals
her warm words lifting the feathers
of sleepy birds

~

and today

her breath settles low on the hills
letting the morning wake slowly
she speaks quietly
as the green rises
and the birds wake
and the barefoot creatures
step into the light

©clairegriffin2018

 

19 December 2017 – notes for a poem – un-named as yet

The sky is pale and grey, not heavy, but flat and low.
The world is shallow, horizontal, with little space to breathe,
except in spaces cleared by flurries of warm wind.
Sparrows visit, fearless, curious thieves,
crumbs disappearing at the speed of flight.
A magpie swoops in, a botanic priest to correct the masses.
A large golden dog steps forward and they take to the air.
The roses are every colour from white to peach, cerise to ruby,
some freshly opened, some over-blown.
Stopping at the climbing roses,
and drawing a branch close to breathe in the perfume,
a conversation approaches, full of soft “-sh-sh-“ sounds,
the sound of the breeze and these dark, blood-red blooms.

This is the beginning of a longer piece based on notes taken on 19 December 2017. Its taken me a while to feel that I’m beginning to understand how this wants to be written. But this feels right, and I’ll persevere with the rest…its not always an easy process.

©clairegriffin2018

your body tells me

all is quiet and peaceful
the white body stretches
fluff and tufts and curls
pink underbelly revealed
sleep takes time and
a commitment to stillness
its all an illusion of calm

when awake, the furred paws reach out
desiring but sensitive to touch
pleasure quickly shifting
to irritation and reactive bite
slowly I’m learning how to connect
keep a firm pressure
just the head and scruff

when awake, the stomach leads, curiosity follows
with long, late night explorations
returning early morning
tousled, leaves hitch-hiking in the fur
strolling in like some careless wanderer
fresh from gallivanting about the neighbourhood
an opportunist, a pathfinder, a rapscallion

you have a history that I’ll never know
for now all that matters is that I am patient
and learn to understand your unique nature
there is an energy around you that I’m trying to read
and if I sit still and watch
your body tells me everything I need

fire walks on snow

IMG_7935

©clairegriffin2017

(Prisma app used with original photo of the newbie)

emptiness

there is an emptiness
my memory cannot fill

the room is quiet, the air is still
you will not cross this floor
nor cast a shadow

but you will meet me in dreams
a tall dark woman with golden eyes
cloaked in velvet, brushed with star-light
you will lead me through the wild world
to the hiding places under trees

I will follow you
my heart beating in time
with every breath and silent step
and we will sleep
curled together in the night

©clairegriffin2017

in memory of Frida – my wild gypsy queen – gone to wander among the stars
16 or more years – she came to me as a street-wise, street-child who would not be held,
who would fight for her freedom to roam the wild places
a canny little thing – never once, to my knowledge, in a fight with another cat,
but I did find her watching once or twice
after a year or two of patiently letting her have her way, she walked in one day,
made eye contact, and decided to be more approachable
she loved to be brushed, she’d let her claws be trimmed without a fuss
she had a few health problems – hyperthyroidism, flea allergy, and later kidney problems
she had a love of ice cream I put down to a deprived childhood
during the last night of my handsome Thomas,
she stayed up all night, keeping vigil with me
and after he passed she became closer, snugglier
she’s been by my side constantly these last couple of years while I’ve read and written
my way into a deeper understanding of myself
this little shadow, this feisty willful girl – she deserves to have the best of times
in this new, mysterious chapter of her life

becoming my own myth

I dig into the dirt to plant seedlings, sweet peas
imagining them winding their tendrils round stakes
pulling themselves up to the sun before bursting into flower
my fingers hold the earth aside, then press it down to secure a fragile stem
as I start to make another hollow
I push my hands deep into the earth
and …

I am searching for the way back into my past
I am searching for some evidence of belonging
something that will connect me
I pull my hands from the dirt
and all I can see is longing

this land is rich in story
every mountain, tree and bird has name and meaning and myth
but do the stories of this land belong to me?
my ancestors were far, far away when first these tales were told
and now, do the voices of this land speak to me?
and if they do, can I claim them as my own?

born here, four generations or more, but far from the source
disconnected by time and distance, origins lost
those who chose to leave their homes to start again so far away
some thrived, some were broken
I’ve had to learn the names of my family and my birthplace
instead of breathing them in as a babe
the stories of my people didn’t come to me first hand
I’ve never heard them spoken
I can only read the sleeping words
and imagine them rising from the page

there seems no other choice than that I must become my own myth
send my roots down deep into this rich soil
until I feel connected

I would become green-fingered from the feet up
to become a root-knower, stem-lifter, seed-gatherer
I would understand the alchemy of gold to green

but for now

I am become
the memory of the fair-haired child, lost and fearful,
except when barefoot, running wild in her imagination
I am become the troubled woman, seeking security, trying to refuse the easy road
the intentional woman, trusting instincts, curious and creative
who discovered she needed to birth herself
time-shifting to lift and shelter the memory-child,
who tells herself stories,
writes herself into the past and leaves the door open to the future

I listen to birds
and watch the dance of trees
I learn the language of dreams
I have no myths but the ones I tell myself

I dig into the dirt
to plant new life in the soil
I pull my hands from the earth
and now all I can see are stars and flowers

©clairegriffin2017

It’s taken a month to write this – one of those pieces that demanded to be finished before I could move on to something new.
I’d been thinking about those whose forebears moved to another country, and their descendants. There can be feelings of disconnection from the ancestral country, questions which aren’t answered by knowledge of the place of birth. This is the case for me.
I’m aware of some of the Māori history and myth of Aotearoa New Zealand, but not being Māori, I wonder if those stories can also be mine.
And yet, I was born here, I have no-where else. My people came from Scotland, Ireland, and England, and while some of the myths and histories of these places resonate with me, I can’t quite own them. I don’t belong there – my southern Pacific upbringing in this nation has shaped me into a very different creature. I’m not British, I’m not European (although I understand this is used to define origins/ethnicity), and I can’t quite claim the stories of those countries as my own, not in any living, contemporary sense.
I have the added difficulty of a disrupted family history. So this all starts to sound like a question of identity. The stories our ancestors tell help to form our sense of self and belonging. As a Pākehā New Zealander, what are my stories, my mythic tales to explain my place in the world? I want myths that belong to me, that are born of this land.
The late Michael King wrote about Pākehā identity and culture, and this could be the time for me to read his work on this. Strange that I’ve never explored it before now.