untitled – Tuesday 19 December 2017

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.

The roses are every colour from cream 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 scent,
voices approach, a conversation full of soft “-sh-sh-“
the sounds of the breeze and these dark, blood-red blooms.

***********************************************************

The gates are open, the path reaches on ahead
and down the hill to the city.
Purposeful runners make short work of the distance.

Tourists walk past, looking straight ahead, keeping to the trail,
“you’ll see a lot of them here – this is tattoo country”
but looking down, this forearm is bare, unadorned,
the design resting in imagination,
as does the house of possible ancestors.

The outline sketched in brick, visible across the grass,
sliced in half by the path these people walk on,
oblivious to the souls that made a life here,
the commitments made,
the children born,
the woman who refused to leave
after the death of the man she loved.

***********************************************************

Children cluster on the edge of the hillside,
where the ground falls away through the trees.
They look out over the city,
people they will never meet, lives they will never live.
Names and dates and ages
carved into their homes of stone.
Angels hold the space, but offer little comfort,
wings broken, eyes blind.

***********************************************************

Isabella draws her hand from the water, and stands to leave the pond. The memory of goldfish kisses tingle across the ends of her fingers. She walks past the rose garden, and up and across the brow of the hill, until she reaches the stone door her parents had placed above her small narrow home, the home that was gone now. All she has is the door. From here she steps in and out of the world, watching until sleep calls and she slips through stone into memory, held in the sacred space of love and loss.

She watches the woman. She watches her trace the outline of the cottage with her steps, sees her break a kawakawa branch and place it on the plaque, sees her step back in silence. Sees that the woman feels the disturbance in the soil, feels the loss. And she feels the years collapse around her until they are two women standing on a hillside, two women lost in time.

As the woman turns to leave, Isabella sends a butterfly to brush past her head, and a fat bee to land on the white rose that grows wild nearby. Roses whose work is done, their centres turning brown, dropping their petals to rot untouched into the earth. All is beauty and desolation for the girl who watches, silence for the woman who listens.

*********************************************************

And as this woman turns to leave, she is deep in the silence
these hours without speaking have taken form
and wrapped around her a cloak of pale, thick air
a fog of silence become substance

And as she walks back down the hill to the car
Isabella walks behind her
bees and butterflies in her hair
and on her shoulders
and white rose petals
falling from her hands

©clairegriffin2018

Well, this has taken a long time to resolve!
From first notes made on the day (19 December 2017) until now, this very evening.
I’d tried prose, and being much more literal, then more poetic forms,
until I just stopped looking at it at all a couple of months ago.
Finally (and rather suddenly) tonight, I settled on this.

I’m interested in your impressions – what meanings you take from reading this.
I like the sense of mystery but I wonder if its too obscure. To aide understanding – this is based on notes made during an afternoon at the Wellington Botanic Gardens and the neighbouring Bolton Street Cemetery (see: https://boltoncemetery.org.nz/history/).
Any ideas for a title would be welcomed too 🙂

not running now

IMG_1024in a gallery, I stop in front of a coloured pencil drawing, busy with characters and symbols, layers of images with multiple meanings

a woman looks down from the top right corner, eyes pitched at extreme angles, acutely arched brows, and I am looking into the eyes of the artist, someone I’ve never heard of before today, someone born during a thunderstorm, in the place I used to call home

and here I am, pulled back into the black heart of my old city of stone and brick and hills and harbour, and the long peninsular reaching out into the sea

for every brilliant bright-eyed day, there was fog and rain and ice and cold, that we endured more than embraced, though we would never admit to that, stubborn Celtic stock, past generations transplanted to the opposite side of the globe, myths and legends and connections disrupted

that black heart becomes embodied in song, on runway, and on page and canvas, and in clay and wood and iron and glass

the arts run deep here

and just briefly, when I was younger, I brushed up against the energy that was manifest in the people who brought that heart to the surface

I smelt the sweet tobacco and wine and the bitter beer on their breath, as they talked late into the night in dark pubs, and in small rooms with few chairs, so we’d sit together on the floor and lean against the walls, talking of art and culture and origins and ethics and sex and love and time and commitment and paint and clay and sweat and fire and music and history and myth

and we’d stand at an open window in the winter cold listening to the wind music, and I loved it, and I wanted it, but it made me feel afraid, that I had nothing to offer, or that if I stepped off the edge into this world, there would be no coming back

I had been close, close enough to recognise the attraction of this life

but I ran

from the challenge, from the question, from the choice, from my own potential,
fear is a darker master than any carved bone or midnight candle

its too late to reach back and take the hands of those who would have lifted me
I press my own two hands together and breathe slowly over the fingers, the sigh of lost years and newly found resolve

I’m not running now

my eyes are a well and they fill from an ancient spring
the past is hidden in these tears
I dip deeply into the source
and now my pen runs with memory
and light reflected from a quicksilver pool
and the rain from a dark star
and the cry of birds and the green blood
of trees who shake their heads
and shed their skins
and hold out their branches
to take me in
that I might sleep among them

and dream

©clairegriffin2017

tea and memories

I’m so grateful for the time someone spent with me this afternoon – so patient – listening to my story – suggesting – clarifying – helping me to write my mihi – and more deeply – to connect with and claim my mihi as my own.

I came home – and stopped in front of this kawakawa bush – I was thinking about it yesterday and I knew the best thing would be to make tea from its leaves and let the past settle while I waited for it to steep.

I sit now with my tongue tingling along with my heart.

the cloak of shadows

a cloak is suspended
from a high ceiling
just inside the entrance
of a dimly-lit room

I cross the threshold
this cloak of chains
is dark and hard
and I swear the air turns cold

I read a date – 1860
the past confronts me
the pain is palpable
and I am silenced

shadows move between the links
invisible hands raised
to hold me at a distance
I’m barely breathing

there are voices
in the shadows
I move aside
and they begin to speak

 

© Claire Griffin 2016

image and information: http://www.pataka.org.nz/ngahina-hohaia/

Te Kahu o te Karauna – This is why I won’t stand for the national anthem”
a metal chain korowai (cloak) sculpture by Ngahina Hohaia,
from the exhibition “Tools of Oppression and Liberation”.
This piece refers to the oppression of the peaceful settlement at Parihaka.

 

trees of the long white cloud : part I

these trees are immigrants
keeping true to their long histories
continuing the customs of their ancestors

sepia, folium
tyrian, madder
minium, cinnabar
carmine, cadmium
saffron, sienna, ochre, weld

these colours are deceiving
unlike flowers, they are not an invitation
rather, they are a sign of loss
and of a turning inward

as the trees begin withdrawing into themselves
conserving energy, preserving life-force
releasing all non-essential elements
leaves lose green and fall

to protect themselves
from winter’s chill
the trees hibernate above ground
they stand naked in the cold
heart kept warm deep in their centre
beating slowly, barely breathing

they stand quietly, patiently
winter – one long meditation
until the sun rings the zen-bell
and branch tips stretch, buds open
and the trees shake themselves awake

 

© Claire Griffin 2016

discovering who I am

Version 3

I’ve recently seen a photo of me
at about age three
climbing onto the verandah railing
and leaning out
leaning forward
bare feet, toes clinging on

I stand on the edge now
the edge of memory and time and history and loss
seeing my past self
a little girl who was funny
who was adventurous
and loving
and curious
and smiling
and brave

that little girl
looking into the future
full of hope, full of happiness
when I first saw her
I was astounded
I didn’t know that’s who I had been

and now
when I look in her eyes
I recognise myself
its taken a long time
I discover who I am

 

© Claire Griffin 2016

you find me

You find me
and I am completed.
I had not known
I was lost.
A space,
I did not know was empty,
has been filled.

It was hard to find balance …
The instant recognition,
when I saw you pass the window – I knew you.

But the present now disrupted accepted history.
Emotions surged.
Truths were challenged.
I had to reinvent my entire sense of self.

And yet I knew you –
and it was easiest thing
to be claimed by you
and to name you as mine.

I wonder sometimes
who I would be now
if I had known you sooner…

But it is enough
to know you now
and be loved.

© Claire Griffin 2016

(a poem written for my father and given to him a couple of years ago… with much love)