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, 2013


2014-06-25 15.18.37

The Blackthorn Trust in Maidstone, UK, is a charity which offers medical care, specialist therapies and rehabilitation through work placements in the Blackthorn Garden. The Trust offers help to people with mental or physical health difficulties or learning disabilities.







Oak, Oak


Planed smooth as babies’ skin,
Your robust rocking arms
Sheltered me, cradled me, your child, from harm.
Slower than an acorn then I grew
Into a sapling child: chafing on
The wicker seats of bees-waxed
Ladder-back chairs, ungrateful,
Knowing you not. Outside again,
I hung in you, laughing, swung in you,
Clung to the cleft of your branches:
Climbing, climbing.

Slowly suns moved; time dawdled past.
Later, I stepped below your arching ribs
Solemn, trembling with armfuls
Of lilies, roses, ferns, carnations,
Regarding you not at all
But closer to your heart, until
I climbed, climbed the turn
Of your branches, the spindle shaft
Of a newel post, the twist of oak-beamed stairs
Through the tolling bell-tower of an ancient church
To the rocking wooden bed of a marriage.

Here in middle age,
Severed by a death
From the trunk of my own tree
I write these words at an oaken desk
And feel, gratefully now, the patina
Of venerable wood: warm
Burnished, shining
Beneath my splintered hand.
Brass handles yield up life’s secrets.
In the sheen of gold-grained oak
I find the wisdom of my mother’s heartwood.

One day I’ll learn to love
Those ladder-back chairs,
The oaken rocker where I’ll rest,
At last, rest until I rest the last
Rest, slough off this sullen skin
In the arms of a robust oaken box
Planed silken smooth as shrunken skin;
Cradled like wine in a wooden cask,
But, now, without the rocking:
Cradled in your open arms again,
Climbing you, oak, oak, to heaven.

Then out of me, yes, even me,
Will grow another oaken tree.

© Lizzie BallagherOak Pathway

Beech in the Weald

Dwarfed by the sheer weight of wood, we stand in awe.
These are the elephant trees: great grey giants,
Graceful dignity enduring centuries.
From roots stitching thready ways
(Through chalk & stones, through soil, greensand & beechmast,
Through rock and bones searching, stretching and reaching)
There rise the rugged trunks: featureless except

Where time has cruelly carved
Marks in unprotesting bark;
Or where dark rain has chiselled
Channels & trickling runnels;
Or where lichen & fungi,
Moss & algae find their home;
Or where love has madly gouged
Sad letters, crosses, kisses,
Arrows, crazed hearts in a tree
Stalwart, too sure of its place
In the wild Weald to resist.

No, not featureless at all,
But feathered & flecked, each one
With scar tissue of its own;
Veins thrumming with green sap,
Limbs on fire with chaffinch choirs;
Leaves hazy with fine white down,
Bright-haloed with stained-glass luminosity,
Liquid light streaming from the emerald crown.

Unseen, within, timber has secret love-knots,
Circlets: whorls of golden silk swirl & fold, weave
In skeins, grains & ribbons as rare
As the filigree of fine capillaries
In these our fingers; as rare
As freckle constellations
On our fair embracing arms.

And, wondrous to comprehend:
He who calls the beech to be,
Who knows the tree’s end long before the shaft-fall,
Who loves my springing up, my branching out—yes—
He who knows each tree knows me.

© Lizzie Ballagher, 2013

Beech on the Greensand Way