It’s National Poetry Day

In celebration of 2017’s National Poetry and in honour of a family birthday today, I hope readers of this blog will enjoy this poem:

Postcard to Two Grand-Daughters
(or She Stoops to Conkers)

On the day when you became a loving sister;
And on the day when you were born,
I waded ankle-deep in spring-like grass
Under a burnished tree to gather horse chestnuts:
Rich globes of silky wood still varnished
With the oil of their thick satin casings.
I chose the glossiest, the shiniest,
Just as your parents chose you, too, you two:
A pair of bright stars in their loving eyes—
And in mine four thousand miles away.

Look—take them! In your baby hands you hold
The world & all your two sweet lives. You could
Dry them, preserve them in vinegar & bake them,
Knot them on strings & bash them in that old playground sport
Until they split & you can’t play for giggling.
Or you could open up your mother’s precious oil paints
And portray each chestnut’s singular loveliness
On a field of springy grass & autumn leaves.
Or you might turn them into castanets
And dance a tarantella in a swirl of skirts.

Or else, like me, your wordsmith grandmother,
You could grow a shiny conker
From the chestnut tree
Into happy poetry.

Words and image © Lizzie Ballagher

 

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Roots

I’m guessing many followers of this blog have felt, at least once, that strange sense of belonging in a particular place—usually without fully understanding why. It’s a curious sensation, one I’ve revisited recently in this new poem: “Roots”.

Before long buried great-grandmothers knew to count the years,
We here took root. I know it in my bones
As I rustle over hawthorn leaves’ brown layers,
Or over opalescent beads of churchyard snowdrops,
Or as I roam across the uplands’ sky-flecked flint,
The clifftops & the chalk-striped fields of home.

From burnt-out stars, my dust, my DNA, my ashes—
All are here: the past, the present & the yet-to-come
In future generations’ tales already traced
And tracked on winding trails where, deep below,
Our roots run long & strong beneath the downs;
For miles—millennia & miles—they mine these hills.

From trunks, from tibias they spread their metatarsals
Drawing water from the pools & wells of rain,
From springs in folded clay & shale beds.
Their dry roots tangle, cleave & cling; turn & twine;
Drive fibrous fingers, thin phalanges in
Through waves and weaves of moss-stained greensand.

I feel the pulse and push of heart & foot,
The thrum of sap, the throb of blood,
The rise of hope without the reasons
While lives deep-rooted round me grow,
While trees green-shooted round me know
The stream & surge of changing seasons.

© Lizzie Ballagher

2015-01-27 11.43.44  2015-01-25 13.56.25

 

Tree Rings

 

In the cupboard, a parchment tightly rolled (I suppose

So no skeletons can embarrass us by dropping out)

The family tree takes up less space

Than any sapling apple shoot in garden ground.

 

Felled, unscrolled across the tabletop, it is a thing

Of mighty girth, of substance & of centuries,

Gravid in age with flower & fruit:

Many-sprayed with lithe & leafy children.

 

Now & then a bough is scarred, is severed

By the roaring wind of downfall, wrack & havoc;

And, for a while, the ancestry stands rooted, maintains

A season of wintry mourning when all limbs hang slack.

 

Sometimes, though, new sprigs sprout out of cross-grained bark,

Joined at the hip to the spreading tree

Yet drawn by tendrils of morning summer light

To the ribs & rings & wishbones of others in the greenwood.

 

Often new stocks are grafted in:

One wedding ring weaves round another;

The rough-cast band of bark grows out;

Somehow, accommodation fit is found

 

(Even in a shabby, time-worn trunk)

For honeyed yellow rising sap;

For buds & sprigs & sparrows;

For golden bees & roseate apples.

 

True: in spite of bungled pollination & broken branches,

In all this slipshod history, in twists of twigs

Created by the wheeling rings of sun’s white heat,

This tree stays faithful to its healing gardener:

 

It bears—it wears—one more encircling wedding ring

Concentric round another, year on year

Ascending on ladders of grace & hope

To heaven’s high, high orchard.

 

© Lizzie Ballagher

Tree Rings