New Poem on Nine Muses Poetry

It’s lovely to be able to commend a fellow blogger, Annest Gwilym to those who follow posts on this website; her site is called Nine Muses Poetry. Recently Annest has featured a new poem of mine on this site, which I’m pleased to share here: “Ophelia in Mourning at Evening”.

Please enjoy this poem, below; or click the links above to discover this and many other poems on Nine Muses Poetry.

Ophelia in Mourning at Evening

 

Summer seeps away

in a barely moving brook.

 

Last leaves fall from desolate birch:

those trunks that draw black inks

through the glassy water,

through branchy weeds: runes

signifying autumn’s melancholy

under a sky paling to nightfall.

 

And not even a twilight-blue wrap

or the gossamer threads

of a needless bridal gown—

now dappled, dank with dew

in evening’s grass—could keep out

sorrow’s cold.

 

She will go cloak herself, instead,

in widow’s weeds.

 

© Lizzie Ballagher

Felled Pine

Felled Pine:   

this morning when they came

with bowsaws

and that grinding whine

had its beginning

worse than wolves baying over a carcass

in the wilderness

 

you sent up your thin protest

of pine scent:

 

sap rising for spring…

but the well

of fresh-mint pine

green turpentine

will pump now

no more fragrance

 

all the air filled

with your leaking, seeping…

with the ugly thump & clunk

of log-chunks

as they hit the metal flat-bed

of the truck…

 

neighbours gazed on new sky

but my ears heard strange roots grieving—

my eyes saw noonday sun

strike dangerous blows

on shrivelling ground

where hot light probed & stabbed…

 

you were a pine tree

that tendered bark to beetles,

sanctuary to collared doves,

where finches pulled at ranks

of seeded cones

finding their food…

 

also you gave soft footfalls,

perfume, to my childhood—

the cool of northern woods—

but when afternoon’s breeze

blows up today it will carry

only my raging, outraged tears…

 

the seething needles’ sweetness will have gone:

not even that faint lament of pine scent…

Words and images © Lizzie Ballagher

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

 

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.

A Beautiful Place

Have you ever felt a sense of belonging or some kind of inexplicable connection with a certain place? One such, for me, is a wooded hill on Kent’s long greensand ridge. Unassuming by comparison with its oft-feted neighbour Ightham Mote (National Trust), Wilmot Hill offers long views across the blue hills and wide fields of the Weald. And more besides, as I hope this poem illustrates.

“On Wilmot Hill” has recently appeared in the magazine South-East Walker, but I thought I’d share it here to an even wider readership.

On Wilmot Hill

And if you turn aside
from the greensand path
to ascend the wooden stair
in the south slope of the hill,
you will come to an old way,
an older way
running high
on the ridge:
between toppling yews
planted before history by birds & beasts;
between beeches threading the sky with branches,
stitching the greensand banks
with roots that cling,
drive deep down underfoot—

while all the way to the south lie
the plains & blue foothills
of the ancient weald:
away & away for ever to the sea.

In secret folds, in the lee of this hill
where springs run out, grow
primeval marestails greener than greensand,
violets, primroses & spotted orchids.

A blackbird will be singing
just for you
somewhere in the yew fronds;
clouds will drop their mercy on the beech leaves.

Ahead of you
the path will dwindle
to a white-light vanishing point
at its downward curve.

Words and image © Lizzie Ballagher

Glorious Friday

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.

Glory, Glory
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.

Grief and Hope

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.

Seven Candles

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