when you find yourself in front of a painting you don’t understand
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
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
when you find yourself standing in front of a painting you don’t understand
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.
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
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.
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 🙂
2017 was a busy year at work, the winter was long and wet and gloomy, and this might be part of the reason why I didn’t get as much written as I’d hoped. There were achievements this year, and sadness too, as I said goodbye to my black cat of seventeen years. The arrival of a new ginger and white fluff bundle helps redirect the love.
I’m slowly becoming more confident to read my work to others. The first steps on this journey began at the very end of 2016 in a writing workshop, and then continued into 2017. I began recording my own readings and posting these with some of my writing.
In November and December of 2016 I took part in a writing workshop. I was initially quite nervous once I realised that many of these were people who wrote for a living, people who had been published, and so I saw them as “real writers”, and I wondered whether it was really the group for me. But they were welcoming and encouraging, and I stuck with it. The plan was to gather ideas and information about one particular day, and then we would meet a few days later and write.
We met in a small de-consecrated chapel and wrote quietly for a few hours. My result was in a piece of work that came quickly and fluently, and the form of it surprised me, a hybrid piece, a poem interspersed with brief pieces of prose. It. It was as if I could hear different ‘voices’ taking turns to speak through the poem.
When it came time for us to read our work (if we wanted to), I knew I had to overcome my nervousness. When it came to my turn, my hands were shaking, my voice was breaking, and I stopped and started over, reading right through to the end. It felt like the scariest, most vulnerable thing I’d ever done. Feedback was positive, and I was pleased with myself for sharing it.
But after listening to the others in the group, I realised most people were writing prose, I wondered if I should be doing that. I tried re-writing it completely as prose, but I missed the sound and shapes of the original piece. So I rewrote it again, bringing some of the poetic elements back into the work. We met again early in 2017 after we had all spent time reworking our writing, for further feedback.
I enjoyed this experience of working as part of a group, and beginning to overcome my nervousness in reading aloud. This was also a lesson in trusting myself, and learning not to be too influenced by others. It was a struggle to finish this piece, and it held my attention during the first few months of 2017. I was so engrossed in the initial focus on the moon that I continued working on a series of moon poems “this imaginal space”.
A weekend workshop with a different group in February continued to boost my confidence, with my writing, and provided another opportunity to read aloud in front of at least 50 people. Nervousness was shifting into excitement and I read one piece without hesitation, without fear. I was buzzing afterwards with the joy of it.
In the last few weeks of 2017 I took a series of art classes. I challenged myself to try the thing I’ve always wanted to do but never felt I was any good at – drawing. It was a revelation! I discovered that with the right tutor, techniques modelled and explained, drawing was in fact something I could do. We explored different media, and I fell in love with oil sticks (oil paint in solid form). The visual arts have always held a special place in my heart, and if I can actually create in that form as well I will be a happy woman.
I’ve spent the last two weeks clearing the spare room to make a creative space for writing, for drawing and painting. I’m naturally a bit of a hoarder and I’ve spent hours and hours sorting and throwing things away. I’ve found a few scraps of poems written in past years and buried among receipts and banks statements and other domestic paperwork. One in particular gives me an insight into my feelings all the way back in 2004 (some 13-14 years ago!!!) just a couple of years after I had begun living in my current home. It seemed that I was finding the green I was surrounded with somewhat overwhelming and that I was questioning my ability to describe it. What it did show was my desire to write was surfacing again. Now that very green is at the heart of my work.
I took to Instagram like a fish to water in 2016, and in 2017 it continued to be a source of inspiration and another forum for sharing with the world. A friend is encouraging me to try podcasting or youtube.
I continue to wonder about self publishing, and I’ve explored different layout options including photographs. I’m wondering now whether any of my own artwork will be good enough to include ??
My thanks to everyone who has taken time to read my work here, and for your encouragement and positive comments.
I hope 2018 finds us all well and looking forward to another creative year.
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
and you flash emerald, turquoise and bronze
white-ruffed like an Elizabethan prince
outrageous elegance in this suburban garden
you pluck a purple berry from the Māhoe tree
I imagine …
you keep a ball of soot and sap tucked under your wing
and on rainy days like these you bring it out
spit berry juice over it and knead it into paste with one clawed foot
ready to make your mark
if I held my hand still
would you slip your beak into my skin
and ink your name, engrave a permanence
a sign of allegiance for the nights when you are hidden in the trees
I imagine …
writing a sonnet to your dark beauty
while I compose, you shriek and chortle
you fill your belly with violet pearls
your white bib staining amethyst
before taking wing to sing oblivious in the secret wood
in the still morning
quiet rain works its way
down through the branches
one drop embracing another
until heavy enough
to slide off edges and drop from buds
to fall to the green beds below
shaking leaves awake
the bush comes alive
as each small union of sky-tears
leap toward the earth
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