|Jane Griffiths was born in Exeter in 1970, but brought up in Holland. After reading English at Oxford, where her poem The House won the Newdigate Prize, she worked as a bookbinder in London and Norfolk. She has since returned to Oxford, where she recently completed her doctorate on the Tudor poet John Skelton, and is now working as an editor on the Oxford English Dictionary. She won an Eric Gregory Award in 1996.
First, the quickening of the bare forked
extremities: multiple digits flexing like leaves.
The most distant outrunners underground growing
sensible, fretting the weight of the earth
with such a fine toehold it's like feeling the grass
edge upward the length of centuries: this slow
branching out from the tight contracted kernel
of the self, relearning attachments
and the sheer sensation of passing through
the air: all the wooden cages let slip
in a harsh clatter of rooks startled skywards
as the boughs drop from newly-fledged
joints to hang with an almost human curvature,
the pinions of the trunk spring away
and the spine finds out the possibilities
of rotation. Fleshing out their untouchable
dead wood, lesser branches turn muscular,
tendentiously grasping straws from the loose-
leaved hair; an awkward graft at shoulder
height is redefined as the jut of a hipbone.
Last, the pulse of lungs and heart beats
return return return: one by one her feet
leave the earth and the woman steps clean
out of the wood, shaking free her skirt
and standing with a kind of gravity in
the open in her own skin as in a nutshell.
Like bread, like new-risen linen fresh against
the tight translucent sheet of sky. Like the crest
of toothpaste spilling from its cup, the clean
sweep of a brushful of paint, the revelation
between two rungs of a ladder. Like thought
without words, something not yet begun.
Like the sudden outcome in algebra, space
looped in an ascender, noises off, a mill race.
Like words without tongue. Like a day's
unplanned truancy, the fretwork of a cage,
an open door. The blur of a 1970s tv screen,
the electric undertow in your cat's long fur.
Like Jack's drainpipes and Meg's stilettos.
Like the tiger's changed stripes, a tongue's twist
of vanilla ice cream, air wind-whisked in
wake of a mouse, and the Atlantic riding
over whole phone conversations. Like a backdrop,
a bell-jar, a pure invention, this is the house: