Jane Griffin
New Zealand

(a poem for a journey to Manchuria)


3 a.m.
cat shares the i-pod
tumbling sea of notes
waking fright
tea steeps
a sleepless tidal wave

just before
16 hours of falling upwards
in an oblong box

Sleep now – answer answers
on the waking day
landline jangles from Anhui
Hefi dialogue a
mouthpiece cups your lips in darkness
in another hemisphere
you whisper porcelain words into my ear
like "Mandarin, Madman, Macedonian"……….

In Auckland you have left a beacon cut from
rusted steel
a tall amphora
swept in
on a cyclone

inside its heart
the solar luminaire
draws me
like a soft
exotic moth
touch of cat-paw pads
claws retracted

draws me at a gallery

I gaze
press my cheek against the steel
extend an arm
release the shutter

picture this
digital day
heart flutters
it’s on you email in Hefi.


Now she is ironing in Beijing
Making believe she is a Chinese launderer
Pressing velvet through a damp cloth
Organza and silk on a skirt the colour of duck eggs
The skirt has a voice and it speaks in clichés…..says things like,
“the future belongs to those who believe in the power of their dreams”
She irons tenderly anyway
in order to ignore the oxyacetylene flashes of hundred half-complete hotel rooms opposite
coalsoot and skycranes leer

Sometimes on a walk she looks down at her feet, the struggling beds of clover, avenues of red carpet-roses in the backs of apartments.  The ground hides tiny signs beseeching “clean”, nestled among foliage a kind of nano-nature under silken smog.  A tired child-designer walks her to the shopping mall.  They sell a hundred thousand objects - all too small.   
After babyshoeville she strides across the Lilliputian garden
over white marble floors
sips on mandarin secrets like oolong,
bi luo chun


There are codes she knows how to write
addresses on the fronts of envelopes to Aotearoa/New Zealand from Manchuria, poems on the backs of bustickets. 

As a child she learned to read with soupmix in a red and cream enamelled tin, picked letters from amongst the green split peas,
discarded orange lentils,
arranged them into meaning on a tray.   

A little later on she took to sets,
staged dramas underneath a naked birch. 

She fashioned these in moss and broken mirror shards then added violets or snapping twig……

and from these small beginnings she perceived
the topaz coloured pupils
gazing up


Peking was fine in china blue with bicycles
now Beijing
presents a fear of drowning

Like a Margaret Atwood girl

He said “Swim baby”
She said “Yes like Mao Tse Tung in the Huang Ho”
and this is how she started diving deep
and flying high like a clever rainbow fish

Puts on her swimsuit
Her heart has the wings of a dragonfly
it hovers near the top of a sacred tower
dreams of Jung He, astronomy and sculpture
shares stories with an English speaking Chinese peasant girl
It’s Monday in Mongolia and the words leap from her mouth
Pu-Yi died sometime ago
and the peasant girl knows about five Alices in New Zealand now
and new ways into

Later after the telling she lies spent on a silken carpet
waits for the rain to pass, the seasons to change, eats mooncakes
traces airborne arcs across the Gobi and travels south,
remembers in a dream she left a watermark,
a pictogram upon the desert’s edge
of another language
she will never fully understand.

Jane Griffin 2005



i)  K u i a

“You’ll know in your heart, your mind and your soul if you are ready to take up the responsibility of moko” Rauwha…

ii) B l a c k  D o g

Sun bright on Taranaki – white-frocked morning
black dog bounds
Tia  plays with stones
Rangi roofs the whare
schools at Warea and Pangarehu
are closing down
Rangi says “I don’t know how Patea got away with it”.

iii) T e  R a u k u r a

13 families now
I am
sitting on the stones at the entrance to the paepae
the place of three white feathers, te raukura,
puriri and monument
trusting that Te Miringa
will come
when we are taking the stories of loss
stories of sharing bread
taking stories; skipping them over the sea from Parihaka
casting coils of harakeke
to Canberra…

iv) D i r e c t i o n

Left down Pangarehu Road to the sea front
white lighthouse without a keeper
sharp turn at the bottom, past three baches
fourth house on the left.  You’ll know it by
the recently cut trees

v) R o c k

tell the world
through your own work
tell of the way in which the sacred peace is protected
of Te Whiti-o-Rongomai
rock of the world
tell where the rock is
tell what the rock is
find arrogance, agreement, consent, compel,
sink into a cleft channel
It is the difference between
                                    love and hatred
war and peace
compassion and cruelty
the not resolved
not Nelson Mandela
not Ghandi
you and me
we cannot slink away

disown our own story
now as it was then
but worse
weild weapons of mass-destruction
genocide like nail bombs

for we are the peacemakers bushed
lest we forget
like Bryce and Ballance 
attempted legacies in stone cast in
an empty colony
enclosing space in cathedrals.
tied to an impediment

Tohu struggled with his speech
to find a place for
all that is hard to articulate
in voice
in rock
in wood
“Bbbbeware of men with sticks
in fact beware of sticks”

(vi) R e e f

…….. of pink and white rocks
channels cut-out cleave Pacific Rim
straight line from Taranaki snow-white
a giant sandcastle of cosmology
on the new roof of the marae at Parihaka
paepae and puriri near
Te Whetu’s vision
and Te Whiti’s sand

the rock”
this is vision’s
synapse stream we leap between love and hatred
compassion and cruelty
the arc of morning sun over mountain
a beach of stone stories crashing foam

vii) V e n t

Go tell it now
the beautiful story of Te Whiti-o-Rongomai

Go left down the road at Pangarehu to the place
between the mountain and the sea
to the white lighthouse
to ask questions at the brown bach
about the run-off
and the dying shellfish
and the pink reef
and the white reef
and the secret channel
and the way into our people’s hearts

Call to the vents of Hawaiikinui
Fear for the Pacific
laid waste in this collision
when the night of melting
comes like a revelation once again
and the refugees travel to the mountain
to warm themselves beside her crater lake
cup handsful of steam, sit beside her belly
breathe her fire

viii) B l a n k e t

Look up 

Watch the snow-bright peak
late day light
a chair on the veranda
igneous rock beneath my feet
the power of storytelling in my hand

late day taonga at Parihaka
two kete
one blanket
the feathers of the albatross
feet thawing out
in Pare’s cottage.

I hear the breath of life

Ti hei mauriora



more precious
than this peace.

C . Jane Griffin 2005

B i r d s o n g  L a n e
(of dancing with the koori girls)
Version 2

Moving for the koori girls felt like this she says

Just off Dominion Road
there is a place for dancing,
Birdsong Lane,
a sweet track of notes in the city of sing,
foot flex
legs leap

Berkoff and his villains are abroad
an early golden autumn threatens, Violet
has sent her to Bangarra
Their skins are pasted ochre
on evening aflame with desert messages

She wonders
those feet have ever touched the dreaming tracks and
knows how now down Birdsong Lane
she could just pirouette
on a sixpence
See 40, 000 years swing solo in a dusty toe
the backlit cloth of night swing cool and low
Old moon rest in her eye
finger a rainbow serpents’s tail
a bunch of glitter
over the galactic orb of nightfire
tell once again her story of the
dreaming days

and she is flame
and birdsong

C. Jane Griffin 2005                                                 


”I cut off my hair and gave it to my cousin
He took it with him to the States,” she said.
“My Auntie died – same time –
I don’t know if I’ll do this show.”

and she lives in Mad Ave
the place
where there’s a three-legged dog
wearing a pink bed jacket
and they throw out oak dining chairs
because what’s the difference
and her hair is streaked with grey
and she doesn’t know if she’ll do this show
and it could be Louie’s tape
and Louie says they’re not hitting her that hard these days
because she’s bigger now
and all the time
there’s the rugrats and
the semolina bags and
the lines and lines of flannelette washing and
the dog and
the girls on the Avenue four-a-piece
lazing at the busstop and
she’s still not right about the show
they belted her last time she wagged rehearsal
she got it
when her uncle got locked out that time
he turned up two hours late
and her auntie died
and her brother took her air away to L.A.

C. Jane Griffin –  1996


Indigo horizon
off Palliser
wind-tumbled among seal feramones
rock-spired Orc battlegrounds in vista’s cinema
quiet colonnades more recently
indifferent to diminutive
slippery pups
their innocent gaze fixing lens

farther out
your fingers grope in caverns
seek coral spines in kelp
lungs and brain ignite
breath block
descend to
a place of imprinting
conception and dying
come up for air -
dive again and push
strong reach inside runnels of rock and wash

Ashore you show me 3 ways to kill
“the knife” you say “is swift”
Your large dark hands
work deftly
pups bark
heart holds
knife pares
clean through lucid flesh
fractures crunching shell
like truth consumed

…and for a moment I lose my spine
look up towards the screaming orange lighthouse
watch as it torches an indigo sky,
hear stillness on an ebbing sea
and somewhere far the muted barking of tomorrow’s seal

C. Jane Griffin 2005                                                 


The Khmer are dancing once again
reflective mudras
red pants
petals flutter
on the stages of Chulalangkorn

Four thousand gestures bless
the monkey,
wrist bends anchors curve of toe and body part
an antic presence
thrives beyond Pol Pot, the terror and the Rouge.

4 hidden masters
in villages
survived the skulls
sang sweetly in the ears of murderers
and now their bodies
want to go
but don’t go
like tempered vessels of restraint they move,
hold a world cupped in the ventricles of each heart
dance outside their homeland
in Bangkok today

Each foot positioned to avoid the place of bone
each silent inclination of the head
a resting

These are the first
These are the last

and The Khmer are dancing once again…….

Jane Griffin, Bangkok 2004

Jane Griffin is an Auckland poet and theatre director and HOD
Drama at The Raye Freedman Arts Centre, Epsom Girls Grammar School, Auckland, New Zealand.  Her email is