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.

 

 

I never knew

I am lost in your hunger

I have bowls full of honey and figs
salted caramel, dark chocolate, and cherries
but I don’t know what to offer you

its no good showing me your hands
or your bright blue eyes
or the curl at the corners of your mouth
they don’t tell me what you need

your hands are soft, your fingers long
skillful, gentle, strong
they don’t show me what you need to touch
that you want to roughen your skin
with dirt and wood and stone
these hands caress, they gift forgiveness
I never knew
they wanted to be held

your eyes are blue
deep set, astute
they are restless and curious
scanning for beauty and the next new thing
they don’t show me that you want to see
the familiar, and the new, grown old
these eyes can cross a room
they share your soul
but I never knew you wanted me
to see them closed

and I can’t trust your mouth
to tell me what you need
all fullness and laughter and easy smile
you speak of honesty and truth
you’d rather your words hurt me, than lie
you appear to question fearlessly
I never knew you trembled before each answer
I never knew you needed more than promises
kissed into your hair
I never knew you needed to bite through
the skin of devotion
that you needed me to bite back

hold out your hands
that I might take them in mine

close your eyes
that I might watch you sleep

show me your teeth
that I might know what to feed you

 

©clairegriffin2017

the heart of this hill

I drove today
through rain and fog
over the Rimutaka Hill
to see my father

years earlier, my mother rode a train
through the heart of this hill
heading south
taking me away
from the place I was born

every time, driving back over this hill
I feel as though I am trying
to mend a wound I didn’t make

and I wonder, how many times
will I need to cross back and forth
before the edges are stitched together

but there will always be a tear in the fabric of time
I cannot weave a cloak long enough and wide enough 
to wrap around this hill

all I can do is keep coming back
keep crossing over

©clairegriffin2017

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 scent of silver

a band of pale grey wraps around my wrist
a band that moves and glows with life
shimmering, twisting, sliding down
against the bones of my hand

when turned between fingers and thumb
the metal warms, the light brightens
and I shift sideways
and all is light and warm
and time is younger
and skin is softer

the band of silver sings
and I am filled with the scent
of winter frost on southern thyme
and summer-dry grass beside the lake
and your hair freshly washed
and raspberries crushed between your fingers

 

daily prompt – describe the scent of silver – from Sarah Selecky https://www.storyisastateofmind.com/

I love these prompts, although I’m never organised enough
to work on them daily as is intended.
They trigger all sorts of associations and memories and ideas
that are unexpected, and usually welcome.

©clairegriffin2017

your hands

1/
when you would rub your hands together
as if they were cold
the strange tension and then release
and the way your face would screw up
and then relax into one of your glorious smiles
your nails curved over the ends of spatulate finger tips
a cigarette held loosely between two fingers
palm up, hand bent at the wrist, while you talked
strong hands, capable, practical, tender

2/

when you rolled a cigarette
when you used both hands
to gather your dark heavy hair
and lift and twist it up
and away from your face
fingers stained with paint
long, slender, graceful, the colour of weak coffee

3/

when your hands gather tomatoes
or test the weight of cucumbers
I see the knuckles enlarged with age
the scar on the side of your thumb
the clean, neat nails

these hands would have held me once
when I was a baby, a tiny child
they would have lifted me and felt my weight

and when we are gathering lemons
and you are passing them to me
you pass all the times you held my hand
stroked my hair, and tucked me in close beside you

your hands have been open ever since
waiting for mine to close over them

Writing prompt from Sarah Selecky:
“write a list of times you remember staring at someone’s hands”.
https://www.storyisastateofmind.com/

These are my memories of three special people.

©clairegriffin2017