Swifts and Swallows

These small birds are feeding now on the wing before their long journey south to Africa. You might just see the blurred flash of a swallow in the centre of this recent photo – far quicker than the shutter!

hungry beaks open
fast wings outfly their bodies:
swallows hunting prey

© Words and image Lizzie Ballagher

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By Black Waterside

Happily the South East Walker magazine (a quarterly) has just published this poem in its December 2016 issue. Written in a previous December, “By Black Waterside” celebrates the harsh beauty of the wild and watery place that is Romney Marsh. The sight of vibrant birdlife in that dark, wintry landscape is hard to forget.

By Black Waterside 

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

© Image copyright Val Lloyd

swan-c-val-lloyd

 

Winter Robin

Recently I enjoyed trying to capture in words the little bird that would perhaps better be portrayed by a camera…so here are both!

Quick Robin 

Still,
Poised
Against the breeze
(The February freeze)
Alert
With song of beak,
Spike of claw,
Spark of eye,
Tuft and tilt of tail,
Fluff and fern and frond of feather;
Ready to spring from the wall and feel
The gift of air,
The lift and drift
Of wing and wind:
Quick robin
Poised,
Still.                                             

© Lizzie Ballagher

 

bird-robin-erithacus-rubecula-13603325680yq[1](Thanks to PublicDomainPictures.net)

 

The darkest days in northern lands

It may not be as cold as usual for December, but the gathering darkness is just as deep, the days growing shorter still for another eighteen days yet.

In spite of winter’s chilly iron will, however, light and colour come bursting in from the air, especially around dawn. Here I celebrate that wonderful fact in the poem “By Bird Light”. I’m pleased to be able to report that Poetry Space has chosen this as one of its Winter Showcase poems—please visit the Poetry Space website to see more!

By Bird Light

At the morning’s opening show, my eyes
Are little more than dimmed footlights quenched

By first light:
Curtains of colour streak the east
And a silent dew leaks,
Seeps from hawthorn & holly leaves.
Ruffled, a pigeon-loft yawns;
Silver birds explode from the wings,
Whir & wheel & whirl around the rising maypole sun,
Laughing in a promenade more practised
Than all the jabbering moves of motley flocks:
Those extras—!  huddles of speckled sparrows
And startled backstage starlings on their props.

Half light:
The tree’s green lungs exhale goldfinches &
Dragonflies diaphanous in backlit gossamer;
Drafting their own migration paths, swifts & skimming swallows
Figure-skate on the thin, iced pane of the sky.
In the chorus robin answers robin
With a necklace of white song, dropping seed-pearl notes
As delicate as ballet steps on points
Among the gaudy, berry-beaded branches,
Among the spider webs that trap dawn’s light
In shivering cracked mirrors.

Daylight:
Now melodramatic blackbirds caught
In the surprise of a breeze
Exit stage right (stage fright)
In arcs of flashing dark fire;
Then settle—fluttering, muttering—fields away;
Meanwhile, deep in bruised hawthorn shadows,
A brimstone butterfly opens primrose wings,
Takes flight
On hazy, airy stairs
To boundless dancing spaces:

Light fantastic, feather light—
By bird light.

© Lizzie Ballagher

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One Woman’s Daily Commute

For five years I made a daily round trip from mainland Kent to the Isle of Sheppey, in those days accessible only via a small, narrow,  vertical-lift bridge. I loved the long views across the marshes as I travelled, as well as the bird life I saw each day.

Island Run

Dawn:
Sun slices open like a bloody orange.
Marsh mirrors flash mischief
(A little Indian magic)
To ward away the sky’s so evil eye.
Beside them, the long, dark finger of the train
Unpicks the stitching of the railway line;
Beyond, pylons pierce and thread that sky
And great cranes cut its calico,
Scissoring coldly through the cloth,
Ripping through the motley rags of clouds
To part the heavy fabric of the day.

Dusk:
Muscovy and moorhen tack their way
Through roosting reed-beds homewards.
An overweight old moon is gathered
Into the new moon’s hammocked arms.
Motorists, tyred and tired, drag hems of smoke behind them
While long white chimney fingers quilt
Cotton wool on cambric blue; and mist uncoils
Like dragon appliqués from hill and water
Until . . . fog shrouds and silences all.
Then seagulls swoop and loop embroidery
To mend the rending tear of worn-out day.

© Lizzie Ballagher

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The might of the little

In a January storm two years ago (and I take heart from this now that colder weather returns to the northern hemisphere) I heard a wren burst into such loud song that her voice drowned even the roaring wind. And now, happily, this poem was one of two chosen by poet John Siddique as one of those commended in the 2015 Poetry Space national poetry competition.

Storm Wren

Over the whinnying, plunging wind,

The frantic strain of sycamores bent double in anxiety;

Over the thundering train of cloud-carriages

Blundering eastwards in the blast;

Over the heaving spines of conifers uprooted in a tyrant gale,

 

One small dun wren

Opens her tight brown beak

And with a clear cathedral voice cleaves,

Breaks the blackened heart

Of this relentless western storm:

 

A shout to crack

The feeble egg-shell

Of the watery world—

Soaring, rolling notes, a mere breathful—to tip

The whirlwind off its antic axis.

 

Sing, wren, sing!

And let angels, larks & nightingales

Take notes.

 

© Lizzie Ballagher

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Eclipse

For most people in the UK, March’s solar eclipse was a bit of a non-event. Even so, what struck me about it was the way, with encroaching darkness, all spring birdsong stopped. Thank you, Pauline Pilcher, for the wonderful eclipse photo taken from the Faroes that day!

Eclipse *

The pod of morning unfolds with a flower of evening;
So daybreak begins with a kind of mourning—
A lament for the failing of lovely light.

As winds drop out, the lively leaves (first blush of buds
In canary yellow, woodpecker green)
Swing loose in the sudden breathless stillness,
Velvet chains hanging slack in willows.

Woodpigeons cease their murmuring mutter,
Thrushes their exultant singing.
Starlings stop their burbling chatter.
Even crooning collared doves fall quiet;
They fan their tails, preen plumage, rest & roost.
All soft winged things are hushed.

The willows’ lush spring waterfalls haul in
All folded feathers, muted birds; they make
Small vivid dashes, splashes of colour
In the leaden, dwindling light.

And skies tilt down—the sun’s great bonfire dips
To smoke. Already it is dusk: deep dusk.
The Earth’s husk tips. Eclipse!

© Lizzie Ballagher
* Solar eclipse 20th March, 2015

Eclipse 20th March 2015, photo (c) Pauline Pilcher

Image (c) Pauline Pilcher

 

Bluebell Season Starts

This post is for Sue and for other fellow writers on Poetry Space and cyberspace beyond, with thanks for all the encouragement!

BLUE EARTH, GREEN LIGHT

Cut the earth and it bleeds
Blue blood:
Bluebells among the brutal butchery
Of coppiced beech, of oak corpses
Felled
By cacophonous winds
This winter gone.

While heaven’s hue falls
Full
In ocean pools, cobalt
Below the April leaves,
And cuckoos
Brand the air with heartbreak,
Blue earth gives out green light.

Cut the earth and it bleeds
Blue blood:
Bluebells under the frill and trill
Of singing green, of winging green
Feathered
By starry-eyed blackbirds
This slow, slow spring.

© Lizzie Ballagher

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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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