This Friday IS good.

Crown of Thorns

Head dipped below its slightest weight,
Eyes glazed with double suffering,
Did Jesus dream the garden
Where he played in childhood,
Where damask roses knotted, clotted red & white
Across an arch once crafted by his earthly father Joseph?
Do not believe such maudlin fantasies!

Whatever Pyotr Ilych thought
On looking at the tenth Station (where Christ was stripped
Of all His garments & took on that vicious coronet),
The thorny crown was not a crimson ring of roses;
That so-called garland caused no dainty drops
Of scarlet blood-petals on Jesus’ blessed brow;
It did not smell of sweetness but of sweated, abject anguish.

A parish artist, though (a score of centuries later
In a hidden church among the folded fields)
Conceived a vision of that torment.
In remembrance of that day he made
A wheel of infinite woe, infinite sorrow
On a hoist as high as a gallows tree
Below the stark Alpha of black-block roof beams;

He wove a circle of wooden spikes & branches:
A twist of twigs with stubs & sticks & strands & spines of pain,
A jagged agony & testament to human butchery.
Two thousand years now gone below the bridge Christ built
Between the earth and heaven, between the temple curtain torn in twain,
The crown of thorn still witnesses
The Truth:

Who wept alone in olive dusk above Gethsemane;
Who hung amid the skulls & rubbish on high Calvary;
Who rose, in spite of death; came back to us in Galilee.

© Lizzie Ballagher

Notes
Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky composed a Good Friday anthem for children called “Legend” which was translated into English by W G Rothery. In this song he imagines that the child Jesus gathered roses that would one day form his crown of thorns.

The parish artist is Keith Pettit of Creation Signs, East Sussex, UK.

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Spring is nearly here!

Spring Comes to the Island

At the parting of the choking seas,
Between the banking up of alien blooms,
The chariots of philistines
Rage and roar and ride across
As a raw wind stipples the water,
As a blue wind ripples the rape–
And their blinding road is frilled
With foaming flowers.

Those rape fields slash and burn the innocent countryside
With streaks
Of oily yellow:
A gallery of violent Van Gogh canvases,
A brainstorm of suicidal painters,
And the live earth smokes and smolders

While a sharp hawk shoulders
That wind, menacing
The feathered sky,
The bright-eyed, whiskered ground–
Then swoops
Plumb straight
To snatch
A little pollen-dusted vole.

© Lizzie Ballagher

Oil-seed rape may not be everyone’s favourite crop, but after the greys of winter, how wonderful to see the light of spring reflected in the colours of the landscape.

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Memories

Motherhood: perhaps not a commonly used word now, but beloved, nevertheless. Because most of my work is about inner and outer landscapes, poems which my children might read when they grew up have rarely come to mind. “The Cry of Birds” (below) is, however, one such. Recently chosen for Poetry Space’s 2015 spring showcase, this poem was in fact written for my daughter over thirty years ago.

The Cry of Birds

I pause for a moment
Weary and still
In the first spring rain
That falls uncertainly on my hair.
The splash and spit and drip
Are all I hear
On this country grey March morning
That hangs thin mist in my eyes.

The child in my arms wakes
From uterine dreams; her eyes
Wondering and still seek mine to explain
The sweet, the shrill, the shriek:
The cry of birds in the rain.
Hush! Never before has my summer-born child
Heard birds sing
In spring rain.

© Lizzie Ballagher

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Skipping Stones

Does this childhood memory of skimming stones ring any bells with you? Growing up near the North Sea, I often watched as my father skimmed stones over water. A marine engineer by trade, he taught me about Barnes Wallis, the much more famous marine engineer whose invention of the  bouncing bomb made such a contribution to Allied efforts in World War II.

 

With a flick of wrist & finger, my father—

Ankle deep in shallows or in shingle—

Sent those round, flat pebbles

 

Bouncing, scudding, skimming, skipping

Over the waves’ grey curls and ribbons,

Over their fleece-washed foam and crashing combs

 

While I—well, all I could do was stand

Marooned on sand, marvelling at his skill;

Or play at hopscotch on the sea-wall.

 

© Lizzie Ballagher

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