these quiet times…

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when I was a child, about 10-12 years old
there were times when I would be in the midst of an uninhabited space
and feelings of peace, and of relief would wash over me

I felt able to open up and breathe

I felt I was being shown
a different way to understand my place in the world
in the face of open expanses of land and sea and sky
I felt small and insignificant
and it was a comfort

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I would lie on the ground and imagine
that I could be unmade
all my many parts become small enough that I could be carried on the wind
disperse across the land
to disappear from the human world and fall into the earth
to take root like so many tiny seeds
and this was not a sad thing
I almost longed for it
this communion with the land

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I accepted this alternative perspective
as a child

and I still do

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in this time of quiet
I look out my window
looking onto trees
and all I hear is the wind and calls of birds
and I’m aware that this wild natural world doesn’t need me
I’m not important to it
I could leave now and it would go on
and I’m back where I was as a child
wanting to disintegrate and be subsumed
to be embraced by the rich dark earth
to be transformed
to come back as a leaf or a song or an iridescent feather

 

With the gift of hind-sight I recognize there was an element of escapism in my childhood feelings.
The future was all uncertainty and this desire for disintegration meant I wouldn’t need to confront the unknown country of my teenage years or an incomprehensible adulthood.

And what I realise now, is that this youthful desire, which I sensed then as a desire to disintegrate, to become disembodied, to fly apart into myriad specks of star dust, was really a desire to be integrated into something bigger than myself, something dependable and strong. I wanted to be held safe.

I imagine it now as a desire to become embodied, through re-integration with the land.

It seems that very little has changed.

During this time of isolation, of nationwide lockdown in order to overcome the threat of the corona virus, I’ve had days when this feeling has returned.

There’s something about the quietness, the stillness of current times, that is reminding me to reconnect on a deeper level with the pulse of the land.

I’ve wished I could just walk out into the hills and be absorbed into the ground.

And more than that, I’ve had the sense of how little I matter, and that if humanity stepped aside, the natural world would find its balance again without the stress of our presence.

It’s not that I don’t think my life has purpose or value. It has as much purpose as a seedling pushing its way up through the earth. It has as much value as the shimmer on the back of a bird, the purr of a cat.

It’s just that there are days when I can’t bear the suffering we impose on the land and every other creature that walks or swims or flies.

I walk barefoot every chance I get.

It’s my way of staying connected.

(written all the way back on 12 April
– near the start of the lockdown in NZ)

©griffin2020

 

understanding a painting – summer abstract 2020

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Shifting through Time

when you find yourself in front of a painting you don’t understand
stay there
stand still
wait
and look…

look for a shape you recognise
look for a colour you’ve worn
look for a line that could be part of your own name

search, imagine

if you scraped back a layer
what might lie beneath?

can you find the first time you fell in love?
can you find the first time you were afraid?
can you find the first layer of paint laid down when you were still in the womb?
your first word
your first step
your first act of defiance

search, imagine

when you find yourself standing in front of a painting you don’t understand
stay there
stand still
wait
and look

you are watching your own life unfold

 

This started out as a much different painting –
an attempt to convey a family separation that happened in my early years.
I wasn’t happy with the painting, it felt too contrived and stiff.
When I decided to paint it out and start again –
suddenly – with those two sweeps of white – it was as if I’d overwritten the past
and shifted into the present.
Strange how things work out …

The poem was written in April 2019 – some sort of foretelling going on there.

clairegriffin©2020

 

granddaughter and the wolf

granddaughter and the wolf

I will build a small house in the woods
with a library and a kitchen and a studio and a bed
and when the wolf comes
I will invite it in
and read to it in a quiet voice
with an even rhythm
and a slow pace

I will cook the meat it brought me
and we will lie on the floor
holding the bone between us
and chew our way to the centre
until our noses touch

I will use a large brush to paint its portrait
in gold and silver and grey
with eyes closed and mouth just open

and when it is tired
it will crawl onto the bed
and I will lie beside it
and comb its fur while it dreams

in the morning
we will drink the broth

and polish our teeth

and hunt

 

©clairegriffin2019

the question is – who is the granddaughter?

veriditas

veriditas

green hands
hold the sky, shelter the land
dance in the half-light, verdant choreography

filling the space
every window shows your face
your multitudes, your bright insistence

the falling begins
the withdrawal, the sheltering
hold life close to your heart and release the past

bright jewels fall
from your fingers, painting the ground
colours from a royal palette – amber, ruby, amethyst

release the lost ones
shelter those come home
clear a path, light a candle, set the table, close the door

deepen your shadows
rich histories beckon as we go into the dark
slow mysteries in the undergrowth, bright eyes watching

a little madness, a little wisdom
spin the compass in the midst of winter
a wild circling, a dance that keeps your heart awake

there is beauty in your ravaged body
and shelter still between your naked arms
not barren, only sleeping; not alone, the night birds are watching

awaken, unfold, arise
bathe in sunlight and transform it
green energy ebbs and flows in your veins

waking slowly, you smile
and colour bursts across the hillsides
fat, furry bees investigate your sleeves

standing tall
arms heavy with flowers
you reach for the earth and greet the sky

walk the green labyrinth
end the year at the beginning
follow root and stem to the source

veriditas

Unlike other years, when I’ve spent these weeks before the end of December putting together my calendar for the following year, this time I’ve started with and completed the text first.
Previously, I’ve chosen the photos that “spoke” to me, and then recorded their message. This time, I started gathering photos and realised I was choosing pictures of trees, and that there was a voice coming even though I didn’t have all the photos yet.
So I decided to let the voice speak, and I’ll revisit my selection and find or take new photos as required.

These verses begin with January and work their way to December. For those of you in the northern hemisphere, this might make more sense if you start in the middle.

And – veriditas – one of the three “v” words that have both well and truly settled into me and become a form of expression. I’ll post some work on the others in the new year.

©clairegriffin2018

shadow fire

a year ago today I said farewell
to my street child, my gypsy girl
my wild, fierce heart, my black queen

but in fact – she was never mine
she was always her own true self
a role model of feisty independence

she chose the best of times to cross over
and three weeks later she returned
to briefly burn

blue flame
shadow fire
spirit lightning

she stained my hands
indigo, alizarin, umber
she pushed my heart past fear and into passion
took me to the edge of obscured potential
of an essential choice

I felt the surge and flux
the rising breath
and leapt

©clairegriffin2018

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