Water Lane, Guernsey

Water lanes as sources of pure running water saved lives during the plague years in England, and in many older settlements they can still be identified by that very name. We found one such in Guernsey ten years ago, its banks flooded by wild passionflowers. From that modest pathway winding down Guernsey hills to the sea sprang this brief poem.

Water Lane, Guernsey

Dabbling, scrabbling in sand & shards of quartz,
paired green mallards turn pebbles for morsels,
wade rock-pools, then climb the channel flowing clear
down Water Lane, where springs run soundlessly
from hills beyond.

Overhead, holm oaks seethe
in a breeze that smacks of salty seaweed.
Here, around our feet, passionflower chains
bind us together—forever ascending
Water Lane: a paradise prickling with bees—
all under that honeyed island sun.

Words and images © Lizzie Ballagher

 

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Dear Dunnock

The recent UK national garden bird survey compiled by the RSPB reveals sparrows are slightly more numerous than was suspected; that they are still the most frequently sighted bird in a British garden, even though their numbers are, overall, declining. While sparrows and dunnocks aren’t in fact the same bird at all, they’re often confused.

We see few sparrows now but instead had the delight of watching a fledgling dunnock grow up last year; it came to feed outside our window every day – far too fast-moving to photograph!

Dear Dunnock,

 

you are           puff of feathers

black beads of eyes sparking

stilted on skinny stick-pink legs

 

I watch you    scuttle like a sparrow

flit like a wren

peck like a robin

 

stand streaked like a warbler

stretch like a mistle-thrush

dig like a miner bird

 

preen like a peacock

tremble, shake feathers

like a bathing blackbird

 

I hear you      squeak like a hatchling

squawk with indignation

when other small birds steal your show…

 

But, dear fledgling dunnock,

(I hate to tell you this, so I will whisper)

you have no tail

just a stub of stumpy plumes

where tail should be…

 

I click my tongue and whistle

lift my forefinger

to stroke you:

you’re gone!

 

Dear baby dunnock, I hope

you will become a bird of paradise with yards

of         rainbow-curling

tail       feathers

 

© Lizzie Ballagher

Boston’s Freedom Trail

Even I Revere the Freedom Trail          

Here I am on the eve of July Fourth—

Yes, that Stars & Stripes Forever day—

But the irony’s not lost on me:

A Brit walking Boston’s Freedom Trail.

Thinly the path of red bricks going two by two

Like a column of starved colonial infantrymen

 

Frog-marches me past churches & graveyards

Where men fought & died—from the gold-leaf dome,

Past that bronze beast bearing Revere, the coppersmith

Riding to warn when two lanterns swung high,

Swung high in the loft of Old North Church,

That our Georgian forebears were coming—

 

Marches me past cold-hearted cobbles

Commemorating the massacre of foolhardy youth,

To the Revere-plated hulk rebelliously hunched

In dry dock, the one they named ‘Ironsides’

When shocked British cannonballs

Bounced back, bounced back off the metal hull—

 

Ensnares me, tugs me

All the city miles it snakes its way,

Makes its way—although, whisper it,

I am shamed by ugly history…

However, still I bounce back,

Bounce back through time’s twisting mystery

 

And I’m a mother now to young Americans—

More: a grandmother, too. My line

Of British sight, of independent British fight

Streaks up with a flare of firework sparks

Bursting in free American air in stripes & stars

Over the city the following night.

 

My life, my line, my freedom staked upon it,

Here: I sign my John Hancock.