the visitor : myth, traditions and interpretation

With reference to the poem “the visitor”:

Myth:
In Māori mythology the fantail was responsible for the presence of death in the world. Maui, thinking he could eradicate death by successfully passing through the goddess of death, Hine-nui-te-po, tried to enter the goddess’s sleeping body through the pathway of birth. The fantail, warned by Maui to be quiet, began laughing and woke Hine-nui-te-po, who was so angry that she promptly killed Maui.

Tradition:
In some traditions, the fantail is regarded as “a harbinger of death when seen inside in a house”.
(Kelly Keane. ‘Ngā manu – birds – Birds associated with death’,
Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 8-Sep-15)

Interpretation:
I remember that my own interpretation at the time I experienced this feathered visitor, was less that the presence of this little bird foretold a literal death, but more that it came as a confirmation of the end of a relationship and the changes that were to come. Still, it was a death of sorts.

When emotions were raw, when change was inevitable, this visitor from the natural world somehow seemed to be an acknowledgement, and a reassurance.

Visitors from the wild-world:
This little bird was not the only animal visitor I had during this time – the other was a possum.

I was living in a semi-rural area, near bush, but I had never in five years seen or heard a possum near the house. And then, one night, returning to what was still my home for the time-being, after spending time with friends who had offered me a room in their flat, I parked the car and walking to the gate, there on the lamp-post at eye level was a possum. It was looking straight at me. I was surprised, but I remember greeting it, asking “What are you doing here?” Of course, there was no answer beyond its silent presence. And I felt that was its purpose – to simply be there with me in that moment.

Days passed and I moved out to live in a flat in the centre of town. I carried on with life, putting on a brave face, and clinging to my misplaced hope that this might be temporary, that there might be a return to the way things were.

One night not that long after, coming home from a night out with friends, I parked the car and there on the lamp-post at eye level was a possum. Again surprised, again confronted. Here in the middle of the city I was face to face with a wild creature. (I even caught myself wondering if it could be the same one). And just as with the fantail, it felt as though my decision was being affirmed, that I had made the right decision, no matter how painful it was.

Each time, I was alone. Each time, I was reminded of my aloneness, but it felt as if I was being reminded that I had the strength to cope. There were so many days and nights when I felt as though my world was collapsing, had in fact collapsed. I felt alone, adrift, abandoned and the pain was palpable. Hearts do break, and there is no relief.

One of the few things that gave me strength was knowing that the wild world had crossed the threshold, had stepped in to my time and space to be present with me. Quite possibly it stopped me going completely off the rails over the following months.

© Claire Griffin 2016

the visitor

fantail1-223

the decision had recently been made to leave
but the heart was torn apart, and still struggling to accept it
standing alone in the centre of the square kitchen
the inside light was subdued and everything quiet and hushed
bright afternoon sun shone outside, the back door stood wide open

a fantail entered
flew silently around the room
and then calmly back out the door

it felt as though time had slowed to a standstill
barely breathing I turned following the bird as it circled the room
feeling both highly aware and slightly stunned
recalling the meaning given to visitations like these
but still, welcoming it, feeling chosen
aware of what I was seeing, how incongruous it was,
and what I was sensing
space and time expanding with every wingbeat
then contracting as the bird left
snapping back to the pace of a heartbeat and the blink of an eye
the wild world had crossed the threshold,
had stepped in to my time and space to be present with me
it was an affirmation, a reassurance

and ever since
I’ve kept the door open
the thin veil pulled aside
an open invitation
and ready for my own departure

 

© Claire Griffin 2016

photo by: D. Mudge
image sourced from : http://www.doc.govt.nz/

 

the fallen

IMG_4226
the ground beneath is hard and dry
not a place to rest, not a place to lie
this far down was only ever for foraging
wind-rivers here can not carry
but blow dust flurries into eyes
dust rose and settled, glossy black coat undone
reaching into air but finding no purchase
eyes opened blind to the sun
fallen
fallen
this far down
all horizontal, all solid, all still
body cooling under sun
hard nest of stones and dust
bones and black
sight gone, shine gone
fallen
still

walking home she saw the contrast
black against the blonde ground
small lost body in the dust
she sensed fragility
approached cautiously
blew gently revealing the dull eyes
fingers nested, lifted
warm hands enclosed
one finger stroked away the dust
revealing the shine
compassion carried him away
her quiet voice shared secrets
whispered into tiny ears

she found a box and a doll’s blanket
and made a bed
she lay her black prince to rest
she knew this sleep was forever
there would be no wakening kiss
she tucked the blanket around him
to comfort and protect
a final nest
and blessed him in silence
a small child’s sacrament
a small child’s attempt
to honour the wild world
to care for the fallen

to an only child
anything could become animate
anything could become the voice of her imagination
he was her pet, he was beloved
he was a sleeping prince
a treasure, a secret
a gift from the world she walked in
at one with the raw pure energy of childhood
not yet disconnected

she felt the need to share
this treasure felt too much for one so small to hold
she showed her mother
expecting softness and awe and sensitive respect for her care

the mother snatched the box
threw it in the bin
half-filled with ashes from the coal-range
clouds of grey ash rushed up on impact
then settled slowly over the small black body
this last wind
this last nest
a desecration
a child’s heart broken

looking down
the blackbird thanked her, blessed her, kissed her tears
she would remain known to the birdworld, the greenworld
the elemental consciousness of nature
granted access
and held the thin door open

 

© Claire Griffin 2016

 

fishy business

taking time to walk along the wharf
and noticing schools of tiny fish
swarming and turning

and into their midst comes
a stream-lined seabird – a cormorant?
going about its fishy business

finding plenty to eat
but each mouthful an effort
a challenge

the fish acting as one, protecting each other
often finding safety in numbers
as they mass together
then split apart

 

© photos and text: Claire Griffin 2016

walking alone

walking alone
on the empty beach
through driftwood
piled up on the sand
sea-worn skeletons
of storm-torn trees

and the footprints of past visitors
crossing and re-crossing
disordered, cryptic pathways
indecipherable
and leading nowhere

it could be easy to start
worrying about purpose and meaning
to become lost in memories
and regrets

but I revel in places like this
the emptiness gives me space to breathe
I can expand into it
I feel lighter, pressure lifts

there is a change in perspective
as the natural world
goes about its business
and I am irrelevant
my worries are nothing

there is a calm excitement
anticipation
as if at any moment the whole world
could shift and become something new

I feel the past
the timeline of history
in every scrap of wood and sand
and dog-print and shell
and I sink into it
and becoming absorbed by it all is affirming and healing

a bird flies right past me
shoulder-height
I look up
sea birds fill the beach and sky

I watch one
repeatedly flying up
then down again
to the low tide line

I realise it is dropping
a shellfish
over and over
persisting until it breaks open
and it can feed on the sweet flesh

that’s life really

we keep going
until the work of living
reveals its secrets and rewards

and on days like this
in places like this
I have no doubt
my footprints join the rest
my pathway just as hidden
my dreams fly with the birds
my intentions just as clear

 

© Claire Griffin 2016

attention brings connection : part I

from a distance
one white swan swims among the black

IMG_2200

but as it draws nearer
I begin to notice
the thicker neck
the shorter beak
the up-tilted tail
head up while others feed

swimming from one group
to another
do I imagine its confusion
its anxiety
as it searches for its own kin?

strong feet drive it forward through the water
kicking one, two, glide
one, two, glide

it is not turned away
nor accepted
but space is made
tolerated with calm disinterest
as it passes by

no choice but to continue searching

alone

IMG_2208

© Claire Griffin 2016