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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