sharp spring wind corrodes
yet cannot stop the greening
push of buds and leaves
Image and words © Lizzie Ballagher
On this day every year people say, “What’s so good about Good Friday?”—a question I consider quite often these days.
So here’s my attempt to address this painful, deeply paradoxical question.
A star bathed shepherds’ hills in light
The night that Christ was born—
Was this the glory of God?
Stone jars of water turned to wine
At Cana on that wedding day:
And was this the glory of God?
The lame man walked. The blind could see.
The leper left his sores behind.
So was this the glory of God?
The women grieved & Jesus wept.
Then Lazarus was restored to life.
Was this not the glory of God?
Under waving palms & cheering cries
He rode a humble donkey colt.
Surely this was the glory of God?
Stripped to a loincloth,
Nailed to a tree,
Shamed before friend & foe—
He was lifted high
On a cruel cross.
Does glory shine out here?
The temple curtain tore in two.
The voice of His Father was heard.
Glory. Glory!—more than ever in this world.
Stripped to a loincloth,
Nailed to the tree,
This—even this—was the glory of God.
© Words Lizzie Ballagher. Image of Lampedusa Cross © Trustees of the British Museum only, used by permission.
We knew it was coming. Yes, it’s true, of course, that a foot of snow is nothing in Scandinavia or North America. Not so in southern England! The camellia tries in vain to blaze its pink from under snow, and it’s too cold to sit long at my desk; the snow shovel calls.
winter clamps its jaws
shuts, clenches, shivers between
chattering white teeth
Words and images © Lizzie Ballagher
For the first time this year, I saw a huge heron fly over today. Usually I see them hunched by the river or beside a lake. Their watchful stillness is eerie, almost as if they’re not quite a part of this world.
Hunched, still as a wily snake,
You wait below the willow on the shallow bank.
Although alone, you’re doubled
At the water’s edge by your shadow self,
By that ageless grey bird, who, unstirring,
As stoic as you on stilted legs,
Stands just as hunched.
Tireless, you wait & watch
With prehistoric reptilian eyes
For hapless frogs & fish—whatever swims your way—
Since you’re not choosy
But endlessly patient,
Missing not the smallest ripple
And, like running water, tireless.
How ragged you are, old heron!
You’ve stood on the brink so long
That the weeping willow’s turned
From green to grey, from yellow back to green again
While you’re still biding your time, lurking,
Ruffled, muffled in your shaggy cloak
And—like a leafless willow branch—how ragged.
Words © Lizzie Ballagher
Yes, February may be viewed as the start of spring in some cultures. And, yes, I am writing this post as snow blows in over the North Downs on a below-zero wind. Still, the thought of warmer days and brighter light keeps the winter blues at bay, even so long before the changing of the clocks. Hence this little poem.
Day comes up full of willow buds
Yellow as yellowhammers
And dusts the path with daffodils,
With flaring saffron crocuses.
Between long cirrus clouds, citrus light shakes out
The splash & flash of goldfinch wings.
An early brimstone butterfly ascends
Creamy yellow on skeins of invisible updraft:
Away, it lifts away, drifts away
Over banks brimming with primroses.
And now on the morning of the springing clocks,
Here in this first week of a northern spring,
The flame has turned,
Sun’s fire has burned
From winter’s crimson plum
To spring’s bright lemon light.
© Lizzie Ballagher
So many people face bereavement at this time of year, and in the past few months three friends or close family members of friends have died. Remembering them, both in giving thanks for their lives (two short and the other long), I am today sharing a poem I wrote two years ago. Perhaps this poem comforts only me; but so many light candles to reflect and remember, all over the world, that I hope this poem reaches out to others, as well.
Light me a candle for sorrow:
For the one on a journey with no returning
And pennies on his eyes for the burying.
Light me a candle for tomorrow:
For the tug of longing & the loss of hope,
For the winds of war & the stuttering of prayer.
Light me a candle for blissful memories
In the darkest hours of night:
For sunlit colours & the laughter of friends.
Light me a candle for thankfulness:
For the holy moments of marrying,
For childbirth & the first faltering prayers of children.
Light me a candle for blessedness:
For bread & wine on a sacred table—
To stand & burn in beauty & in tenderness.
Light me a candle for gladness:
For a welcome at windows late in the evening,
For the hush & stillness of soft sleep.
Light me a candle for peace:
For the swansdown drift of dreams;
For the gift of Christ at Christmas,
And for His rising on Easter’s radiant morning.
Yes, light me a candle for the breath of day’s dawning.
The hiss of a flame, the flare of a spark
Will raise us soon against the dark.
Words and image © Lizzie Ballagher
In spite of what some people seem to think, there is no such person as one with nothing to offer to human society. All of us have strengths, and all of us manifest weaknesses. That thought prompts me to repost this poem, which, despite its title and the pretty photo, obviously isn’t just about trees.
The Blackthorn Speaks
Before you lift the shaft
Of your bright blade on the bare bones of my black bark;
Before you come with the craft and crack
Of that cruel axe;
Before you take the cold-hearted hack
Of cheerless haste to chop me down—
Stop. Hold, & heed:
My roots run deep & steep.
Their old fingers, scrabbling & scratching, find treasures
In the filth, redeeming soot & soil
For lustrous pearls of blue-black sloes.
O, bitter they may be; while my spines
Stab out the scarlet sap of your dear blood—
Still. Show mercy:
Let me bloom among the greenwood trees
Another spring, another & another.
Let me unfold from twisted twigs the starry spray—
The foam & spume, white-frothed—of perfect flowers
To crown your head, your brow, though
Gathered, garlanded on such imperfect boughs.
Stand. Do your worst:
Cut my broken branches, if you must,
But let me long outlive you;
For you will surely turn as knotted, contorted, stunted as I,
Yet full of sweetness in the honeyed heartwood;
So shall I grow to be the prop of your old age,
A thorny shillelagh, if you will—
Stay. I, ancient blackthorn,
Plead for my life.
© Lizzie Ballagher