Dear Dunnock

The recent UK national garden bird survey compiled by the RSPB reveals sparrows are slightly more numerous than was suspected; that they are still the most frequently sighted bird in a British garden, even though their numbers are, overall, declining. While sparrows and dunnocks aren’t in fact the same bird at all, they’re often confused.

We see few sparrows now but instead had the delight of watching a fledgling dunnock grow up last year; it came to feed outside our window every day – far too fast-moving to photograph!

Dear Dunnock,

 

you are           puff of feathers

black beads of eyes sparking

stilted on skinny stick-pink legs

 

I watch you    scuttle like a sparrow

flit like a wren

peck like a robin

 

stand streaked like a warbler

stretch like a mistle-thrush

dig like a miner bird

 

preen like a peacock

tremble, shake feathers

like a bathing blackbird

 

I hear you      squeak like a hatchling

squawk with indignation

when other small birds steal your show…

 

But, dear fledgling dunnock,

(I hate to tell you this, so I will whisper)

you have no tail

just a stub of stumpy plumes

where tail should be…

 

I click my tongue and whistle

lift my forefinger

to stroke you:

you’re gone!

 

Dear baby dunnock, I hope

you will become a bird of paradise with yards

of         rainbow-curling

tail       feathers

 

© Lizzie Ballagher

January Snowdrops

In fact snowdrops began to flower back in December last year. Now they are popping up everywhere to help make the cold more bearable.

Snowdrop Day

 

A miniature arrow fired to the sun,

This tight white bud is no wax vanity,

Nor will it melt like frost.

The innocent flower inches up.

 

Milk-tipped, it drives between

Defeated grass darts (blades all

Blunted on the trodden soil

By blind & plodding footfall)

 

Then turns a corner, silent bell-head

Hanging in the ringing cold.

 

Opening now to January’s stark blue light

(Frail feather down, pale dove wings

Over cloudy olive waters)

This snowdrop floats amid

 

The hostile dreariness, the downright

Winter weariness of yet another

Alien new year’s landscape:

A little ark of hope.

 

© Lizzie Ballagher

IMG_0180

 

Hope and a happy new year to all who follow this blog!

This strange winter, bringing floods and winds to so many, occasionally brings delight to others. Until a few days ago, midsummer honeysuckle was alive and well and flowering in the holly trees along the edge of our small garden. I wasn’t quick enough in all those dark, wet days this month to photograph it, so I’ve cheated with a seasonal shot instead. To me, those tiny, creamy flowers spoke of hope, light and warmth at a time of year that is challenging, dark and cold for many. So, to one and all, a joyful, hopeful new year!

December Surprise

No surprise: there falls

Snow in the winter holly trees,

Wet flakes drifting in stillness,

Speared on savage leaf-points,

Vanishing in salty, mistletoe air.

 

No surprise: there shines

Scarcely a peep of light today,

Except for the crackling red

Of holly berries, the lively green

Of prickling leaves along the wall.

 

But now: a midwinter surprise!

If you look closely here, see,

Threading in among the glossy growth

Midsummer’s honeysuckle still in flower:

Fragile cream & butter petals

 

Twined within close holly trees,

Wreathing the deepening gloom

Of a winter’s afternoon;

Breathing out mild, wild sweetness—

No icy frost-flowers, these.

 

© Lizzie Ballagher

IMG_5641

Night and Stars

Antiphon

Through the ringing dark,
Shivering stars rain down
Arrows, dazzling showers of silver
To turn the steep night white.

Genuflecting in obeisance to those higher lights,
Small solar lamps, garden bling,
Flicker, dwindle, fade to silence
Beside the benighted lawn.

Breathless shadows blacken, lengthen
In the answering bleach of frost.

Over us, rising from the deep,
A chalk-sailed galleon—
Ghost-ship of the spectral moon—
Looms soundless, mute.

It leaves a white lace wake,
A fleece and glaze of hoarfrost
Across the grieving grass.
Midnight. Moonlight. Earthlight.

© Lizzie Ballagher

1280px-Van_Gogh_-_Starry_Night_-_Google_Art_Project

Midsummer Passionflowers

‘Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children.’ T S Eliot, The Four Quartets

June, & at the solstice
The sky’s blue iris widens—wing-wrapped, leaf-lapped—
Drawing out from the apple of midsummer’s eye.

In the crab-tree, a collared dove croons & clamours;
A ruffled wood pigeon clatters away
Scattering breaths of fluff & feathers
While, higher still & higher over all,
Far above the heat-prostrated fields & trees,
Buzzards rise & ride the thermals,
Their screeches borne on the breeze:
As distant & despairing as the prey they hunt below.

Beside the water—coiled, oiled—a grass snake
Basks & smoulders in the tangled weeds,
Olive brown & waiting, waiting…
And so the world turns on its wicked way:
the way of speaking, or of silent breathing;
the way of seeing, or concealing;
the way of feasting, or of being eaten.
Slick, its little, beady eyes
Like pools of bottomless darkness,
The grass snake flinches,
Twitches, flicks away.

Look now.
Look here.
Be quick!
In the green & glossy holly hedge,
Sky-blue eyes open wide in infant innocence,
Blink, wink, spark, laugh,
And—here and there among them—roses drop
Rubies on the holly’s shine.

Oh, we cannot count the blue-eyed children chuckling,
Giggling, rippling through the prickling foliage
On sinuous, twirling bines & twines!

© Lizzie Ballagher, 2014

2014-06-18 14.16.16