The Cypress Speaks: a new Christmas poem for you

The Cypress Speaks

You hewed me down to make a stall,
to make a farm-beast’s fodder box—
but I became a cradle, crib—just small—
the one to bear the King of all.

You planed me down to make a bench,
notched and mitred me, fitted me
with drawers for hacksaws, or a wrench:
wore me smooth with working hands.

You Romans hacked me, hammered nails
to make a crucifix on which to hang the Lord
Whom I had cradled. Then, in my arms once more,
I carried the Maker of the wondrous world.

They nailed Him through and hauled Him high—
Almighty Carpenter who was all Good.
Then cut Him down. But He rose high
from blood-soaked cypress wood.

When winds drive through me on the hill,
when sap is rising in the spring, then think
of me, the cypress tree you hewed…
who grew to bring you from all ill.

© Lizzie Ballagher

Ship-wrecked?

Here we are, back in lockdown. It’s easy to lose hope: for a future near at hand or further ahead. In this new poem, I try to make sense of it all.

Ship-wrecked—

wrecked on the reefs of hope
bark flayed, tossed aside
crushed like burned-out coral
left as sediment

I am hauled across the sand below
scraped on sharp-edged shells
rolled by silent tides
unfathomable

sought out by fishes’ questing mouths
wound round in ribbons of weed
of water-streaming kelp—
sewn tight—

there is no hope
for me—no longer dreaming—
so helpless
unless

I surrender, sink through the dragnet of light
to be drawn up
from runnels, soundless ridges:
no, not drowned:

lifted to the height of solid rock
not shifting sand
it’s there—
sure ground—

I shall be found.

© Lizzie Ballagher

October 1st National Poetry Day

How has it come to this? That October is already showering us with leaves and that National Poetry has dawned again.

Today also marks the launch of Places of Poetry: Mapping the Nation (University of Exeter and Oneworld Publications), in which my poem ‘Long Man of Wilmington’ is featured; an online map of the many poems in this volume – and others besides – may also be found at www.placesofpoetry.org.uk

Here, too, is a copy of the poem published today; I hope you’ll enjoy it, especially if you’ve never had a chance to visit this fascinating South Downs place in East Sussex:

Long Man of Wilmington

That chieftain:
He was a man too bold to bury in the town.
His eyebrows bristled hedgerows
And from his smoldering face the black looks fell
Like a flock of rooks, a murder of crows.
Lime-kilns that were his smoking eyes flamed fear
In hearts of local country folk.
His arms were mighty corn-stooks bulging
From a lumpen neck, nipped in at crook of elbows;
His thick trunk stern & strong as seven sycamores;
His legs too long for some poor, paltry parish grave—
Nay! What he needed was
The whole sloping shoulder of the hillside,
The weathered, rough-edged ridge & dorsal spine
Of the long line
Of the Downs.

And so they hollowed out a mighty barrow;
Bore him up (those men of the town)
And, groaning, carried him (flesh & marrow)
Aloft to burial on the Downs’ high crest;
Interred him there beneath a flint-locked sky…
But carved his image on another cliff,
White chalk etched out of pagan darkness:
Giant over, & under, the hill.
And, afterwards, they gave him
(As a parting shot, or to appease him)
A pair of walking poles;
Then, on yet another top,
Later, a chalk-white steed;
So, if he minded, he might haul his bones up, heave the hill up,
Stride away, ride away & leave them
Standing in among their sacred stones.

Image and words © Lizzie Ballagher

 

Bees in Lavender

Words and images © Lizzie Ballagher

Bees in Lavender

stems sea-green or silver-green are spiked
with royalty
oozing an oil that draws the fire
of bees:
flare of smoked-glass wings dusted with pollen,
prickle of honeyed buzzing—
so quick—
furred in dark bands
sun bands
they move unceasingly
to light’s choreography
in lazy heat

their glossy velvet flickers lightning
and their hum
in the lavender
is thunder

© Lizzie Ballagher

Anxious Days

Recently, a challenge to write a poem in the style of Dylan Thomas brought me to reread and rethink his triumphant poem “And Death Shall Have No Dominion” – in the light of Covid-19. Here I offer you a new poem that will never match Thomas’s work, but which seems relevant both for Easter and for the current global situation.

Creed for an Anxious Century
And fear shall have no dominion.
A man shall call from a lakeside shore
with nets cast far aside,
with fish drowning the craft,
waves cresting to beat on the boat,
when another shall propel himself
to walk to the first on the water
though no one before has ever walked waves,
though water has never been so bidden.
And fear shall have no dominion.
And fear shall have no dominion
though the sun shall go dark,
though nails spill red blood
of a holy Redeemer,
though temple curtain tear in twain,
though graves shall yawn up
the dead from dark pits,
& though baying voices may proclaim,
“Let him save himself if he will.”
So fear shall have no dominion!
Words and image © Lizzie Ballagher

New Poem on Nine Muses Poetry

It’s lovely to be able to commend a fellow blogger, Annest Gwilym to those who follow posts on this website; her site is called Nine Muses Poetry. Recently Annest has featured a new poem of mine on this site, which I’m pleased to share here: “Ophelia in Mourning at Evening”.

Please enjoy this poem, below; or click the links above to discover this and many other poems on Nine Muses Poetry.

Ophelia in Mourning at Evening

 

Summer seeps away

in a barely moving brook.

 

Last leaves fall from desolate birch:

those trunks that draw black inks

through the glassy water,

through branchy weeds: runes

signifying autumn’s melancholy

under a sky paling to nightfall.

 

And not even a twilight-blue wrap

or the gossamer threads

of a needless bridal gown—

now dappled, dank with dew

in evening’s grass—could keep out

sorrow’s cold.

 

She will go cloak herself, instead,

in widow’s weeds.

 

© Lizzie Ballagher

Felled Pine

Felled Pine:   

this morning when they came

with bowsaws

and that grinding whine

had its beginning

worse than wolves baying over a carcass

in the wilderness

 

you sent up your thin protest

of pine scent:

 

sap rising for spring…

but the well

of fresh-mint pine

green turpentine

will pump now

no more fragrance

 

all the air filled

with your leaking, seeping…

with the ugly thump & clunk

of log-chunks

as they hit the metal flat-bed

of the truck…

 

neighbours gazed on new sky

but my ears heard strange roots grieving—

my eyes saw noonday sun

strike dangerous blows

on shrivelling ground

where hot light probed & stabbed…

 

you were a pine tree

that tendered bark to beetles,

sanctuary to collared doves,

where finches pulled at ranks

of seeded cones

finding their food…

 

also you gave soft footfalls,

perfume, to my childhood—

the cool of northern woods—

but when afternoon’s breeze

blows up today it will carry

only my raging, outraged tears…

 

the seething needles’ sweetness will have gone:

not even that faint lament of pine scent…

Words and images © Lizzie Ballagher