A little light in darkness

In all the years of walking beside water, I’ve never managed to capture a swan on camera. Does this poem do the trick?

By Black Waterside (on Romney Marshes)

Clouds lower, doubled in still water. Above,
Beneath, an iron-clad heron leaves its feasting ground,
Flaps skyward, neck retracted, clanking. Fierce
Yellow eyes, yellow beak pierce the predatory wind.

Pattering madly in the mud, its shy white egret
Cousin searches for a fishy morsel then, hearing us,
Takes to immaculate wings. How
Such perfection’s born of river slime, who knows.

Where water brims, grasses stir, rushes skirr
To the ripple of wind’s fingers, to the whisper of wave rings
Flung wildly: marsh and air and water linked—
As wedded as the bride and bridegroom swans.

Swans! Now silkweed parts, and under a lazy sun
Bending to horizontal in stark November light
Great birds sail, murmur and whistle; stretch pale necks
Like candlefire into the dark, inverted arcs

Of gothic lancets formed of sedge and reed.
Just so … swans’ down blows down, snows down.
Curls, swirls of feathers rest, nest and turn on brown silt banks.
By black waterside, swans flex white wings like seraphim.

© Lizzie Ballagher




Night and Stars


Through the ringing dark,
Shivering stars rain down
Arrows, dazzling showers of silver
To turn the steep night white.

Genuflecting in obeisance to those higher lights,
Small solar lamps, garden bling,
Flicker, dwindle, fade to silence
Beside the benighted lawn.

Breathless shadows blacken, lengthen
In the answering bleach of frost.

Over us, rising from the deep,
A chalk-sailed galleon—
Ghost-ship of the spectral moon—
Looms soundless, mute.

It leaves a white lace wake,
A fleece and glaze of hoarfrost
Across the grieving grass.
Midnight. Moonlight. Earthlight.

© Lizzie Ballagher


New hope, new flowers

Snowdrops began to flower earlier than usual this year. When days are short and nights long, how comforting it is to see the year’s first flowers appear.

Snowdrop Day

A miniature arrow fired to the sun,
This tight white bud is no wax vanity,
Nor will it melt like frost.
The innocent flower inches up.

Milk-tipped, it drives between
Defeated grass darts (blades all
Blunted on the trodden soil
By blind & plodding footfall)

Then turns a corner, silent bell-head
Hanging in the ringing cold.

Opening now to January’s stark blue light
(Frail feather down, pale dove wings
Over cloudy olive waters)
This snowdrop floats amid

The hostile dreariness, the downright
Winter weariness of yet another
Alien new year’s landscape:
A little ark of hope.

© Lizzie Ballagher

2014-02-13 14.50.24

Looking both ways in the New Year

Every year around the first week in January, I find myself  looking back and at the same time looking forward. Time is strange stuff – an idea I explored in the poem here: “Time the Tyrant”.

Time the Tyrant

Time the tyrant, before first light

You strap me to your wrist:

Your slave.

You tether me, hour by hour, while

Relentless, you beat

The measure of my heaving heart; while

Ceaseless, you mete

The breaths of my so labouring lungs.


Faceless, you change the landscape of my face:

Warp the planes & cleave the valleys;

Armless, you clutch me, clamp me

To your cold embrace;

Tuneless, you whistle days away

Through cogged & clicking teeth.

Legless & heedless, you lurch on, march on,

Forever indifferent.


Time, you obdurate tyrant, dire dictator,

Dawn to dusk, rain to rust,

We have no true

Defence against you

Save hope trembling, cradled

In an alien manger.


© Lizzie Ballagher

2014-09-29 12.18.23