Blogging for Dear Life

Driven out by war, forced marriage, famine, political and physical oppression, the migrants of the Mediterranean have slipped from view: not only beneath the waves, but also from news headlines. Numbers of those who died in their attempt to make the perilous crossing reached over 5,000 during 2016 alone. But the disaster and the horror go on; already, at the time of writing (August 1st, 2017), the number stands above 2,380 for this year.

Many NGOs are working hard and with broad financial support to rescue and help the refugees. It’s not hard to name them: the Red Cross, Caritas International, Christian Aid, UNICEF, CAFOD, Oxfam, CTBI…I am bound to have missed many. But will such interventions be enough? I have no answers, for sure; yet when I stop to think about what’s happening, I have to do something.

This poem, “Not Walking on Water”, is one of the somethings I’m trying to do. Last year I read about the Sicilian carpenter Francesco Tuccio and was struck by how one small person doing one small thing could change so much in a wide and watery landscape, as well as in the interior landscape of the many who are contributing practically and financially to relief work in the Mediterranean.

Not Walking on Water                                        © Lizzie Ballagher

Because they could not walk on salty water,

The Mediterranean drank them in hundreds.

Then swallowed hard. Few

Survived.

Print truth:

Sharp death.

 

Because they could not walk on salty water,

They drank the Mediterranean in hundreds

And drowned in the dark.

They died.

Blunt truth:

Stark bed—

 

And all because of greedy men

In leaky fishing boats,

In dinghies with outboard motors,

Who abandoned them on salty water,

Turned away, their ruthless pockets filled with money—

Or sailed by on the other side.

 

Yet there was a carpenter,

A plain man in Lampedusa,

Francesco Tuccio, who, walking the beach,

Found washed-up driftwood—

Flaking-paint flotsam of a thousand vessels—

Timbers of the boats that sank.

 

Weeping, he took and fashioned some of them

Into a battered cross of welcome, of hope for migrants:

Not nicely planed but bashed together,

Rough wood,

Unvarnished—

Grave truth.

 

Rugged, the Lampedusa Cross stands sentinel

Now in a wealthy capital, where weeping pilgrims

Keep on coming: to see not jewel-decked marquetry

But coarse-grained carpentry; to fall to their knees on the gallery floor—

Even as migrants keep on coming in their leaky boats

And fall to their knees on Italy’s shore.

 

By good grace Francesco makes more crosses,

Their lamps of anguish flashing across our benighted continent.

Let them teach us to show more mercy,

Teach us to offer at the very least a cup of sweet water.

These crosses: surely they will drive some nails of pity into us,

Shine some splinters, shafts of light into our darkness.

 

Oh, blunt yet sharp-toothed truth:

The heartless death of brothers and sisters—

Even as all of us are drowning.                                  © Lizzie Ballagher

This image of Francesco Tuccio’s Lampedusa Cross is © Trustees of the British Museum only.

This image of Francesco Tuccio’s Lampedusa Cross is © Trustees of the British Museum only.

 

Advertisements

The tricky business of finding a (print) publisher

No craft is learned quickly.

Old wisdom declares that it’s an insipid thing that falls into place too easily. All the same, I still hope (growing greyer by the week) to find a publisher one day for my poems. Meanwhile, I just keep writing. To the select band of followers of this blog: thank you for your encouragement, wheresoever you may be!

Even So

Like a wren without its mate

Singing against the darkness of a late spring dawn

And trusting that another bird may hear,

may yet reply;

 

Or like a wife on the harbour wall alone,

Yearning for a shadow on the summer sea,

Who waits in weary hope for the fisherman’s return:

For the curved white bow of his sail,

the heave and haul of silver darlings;

 

Or like a thirsty, burnt-out farmer

Squinting at the ruthless sky to spy

A speck or fleecy strand of cloud

Promising longed-for rain—autumn’s relief

Over wilted wheat & drooping barley,

over shrivelled yields & pod-cracked fields;

 

Or like that old beloved chestnut mare

They kept for kindness’ sake,

Believing she was barren,

Who wickers for joy at the winter hay-net,

Nudging twin colts as they nuzzle her:

The first soft-eyed foals on stilted legs

she ever bore.

 

So, even so, I set these poems before you.

 

And while only the frailest faith survives:

that a pair will be born to a barren mare,

that drying grain will know sweet rain,

that love will burn on a seafarer’s return,

that—like the music of all the love-lorn

in the greenwood’s darkest springtime morn—

these poems may take wings and fly,

I shall continue writing by and by.

Words and image © Lizzie Ballagher

img_6489

Another New Year: the mystery of future time

How can we know what’s ahead in 2017, or indeed in any year? We can’t, but time (the enemy, as some call it) can also be merciful. As I approach the mystery of another new year, I do so as much with hope and comfort as with doubt.

Of Time & Tide: fourth in a series of new posts: here’s another Reculver poem for the first day of January. May the fog lift to bring hopeful, joyful and peaceful days!

IV        Sea Fog                    1805 – 1945 AD

 

Bound for oblivion,

Walls crack, heave up, subside, give way.

Tower windows widen like vacant eyes—

No one now watching the derelict Wantsum—

Just shafts of sky above the boiling tide.

 

Today’s towers stand, though broken,

As tokens & signs for sailors & airmen.

Two thousand winters of history,

Two thousand cloaks of summer weeds

Settle like sea fog over the ruins.

 

Words and image copyright © Lizzie Ballagher

2015-07-13-10-34-05

 

Of Time and Tide – third in a series of new posts: the longing for peace

In these days of searingly painful news, a time in which world events explode all around us, our longing for peace has rarely seemed more poignant, and peace itself more vital. Christmas can remind us, though, that people were hungering for peace two thousand years ago in the Middle East. They longed for peace, too, a thousand years ago on our own shores. And the narrative of Christmas is one of hope. This post focuses again on the great stone towers at Reculver, which was a monastic community both before and after the Norman invasion.

III         Pax Domini              669 – 1150 AD

 

Bound for long silences,

For the telling of beads & hours on knees

In the monastery church built on crumbling rubble

(Above the seas & the wreckage of Romans),

Monks guided their missiles of plainsong & prayer to low clouds.

 

No more invaders striding, riding here

But (always reminding them of time’s truth) the dry whisper

Of wind in thrift, in sweet-cut hay,

And the battering of waves,

The chattering of bead-like stones on encroaching cliffs.

 

No more Pax Romana.

Instead, now, Pax Domini vobiscum

Et cum spiritu tuo—for all wrong deeds

And the desperate longing

That—for ever & for ever—peace should fall upon us.

© Lizzie Ballagher

reculver-towers-colour

November: a time to reflect, a time to remember

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.

 

© Lizzie Ballagher – words and image

img_6431

 

Nine Days – Day Nine

This evening sees the end of this nine-day blog. Writing the poem has been a good way of looking back with love and affection and looking ahead with hope and humour. If you’ve enjoyed following these nine days, please share the link or send me a comment.

My Mother’s Book of Hours: Novena

IX

But keep the beech-wood box itself for memory—

For our two grandmothers’ sakes, even for poetry’s sake—

And maybe take

One small bright thimble

For faith & hope & love (all three).

Go on—

It fits your finger—see?

 

© Lizzie Ballagher

IMG_6181

 

An Age of Communication?

How will the early 21st century be remembered? The digitally preoccupied may say, “as a communications age”. Well, I wonder if that’s the true experience of many. Or are we – increasingly – speaking into the vacancy of cyberspace? Surely nothing will (or could ever) replace the sort of communication that takes place between people face to face; it is such a crucial part of what makes us human.

This is why I long for a world where small, shimmering screens are not viewed as substitutes for open-hearted conversation, lively debate, friendly exchange of useful information, and the sort of kind, attentive listening that relies as much on the face and body language of another as on the words spoken or written. (And, yes, I do understand the irony that I am writing this blog on a small, shimmering screen.)

I wrestled with this dilemma some years ago in the two poems that follow. Here is the first, with the second to follow soon.

Communications Age

Microchips track criminals,

And wires along the line explain

Why with the wrong kind of leaves, or rain

The trains are stalled.

 

Sharp missives dart through outer space

Between pedestrian earth and bold sky walkers,

Between Whitehall, White House and heedless talkers

In benighted cyberspace.

 

Laser beacons bounce bright beams, fiercer far

Than any lost Napoleonic flames,

While satellites dish up news like microwaved

Hot meals—burning, instant—of some exploding war.

 

Yet still I dream an age when we shall chart

Thick distance from the head to heart.

 

© Lizzie Ballagher

IMG_5969

 

More on Music & Poetry

For those who love music AND poetry, please paste into your browser the link below to be taken straight to a recording by Amemptos Music Limited of Simon Mold’s  piece “Chaconne for the Fallen”…which is also my poem “Merciless Day”. Simon’s work has earned him the accolade of Composer of the Month for the Central Composers Alliance. Now enjoy a few minutes’ thoughtful music that expresses a longing and hope for peace.

http://www.composersalliance.com/composers/work.cfm?work=1390

A Treble's Voice amendedartwork

Resurrection Sunday – Joyful Easter!

This is the last in a 15-poem sequence I wrote for the Via Crucis or Way of the Cross – a meditation on the events that led up to the joyful morning of the first Easter Day. I hope I’ve captured the joy of the Resurrection. A happy Easter to all who follow this blog, and may joy and hope come to those longing for change and new life.

XV JESUS RESURREXIT SICUT DIXIT –
JESUS HAS RISEN AS HE PROMISED

After the long shadows of a darkened Friday,
After the sorrows of a Sabbath tasting of bitter herbs,
Now leonine light bursts out roaring in a blaze of untamed joy,
In the brazen fire of angels trumpeting over the empty tomb:
For Christ the Lion of Judah has arisen from the gloom.

Proclaim it now across the blank,
Closed rooftops of Jerusalem; shout it now
Over the whitening wheat-fields past the town:
Dry river beds all dusty now shall run with rippling streams;
Young folk shall see visions, old folk dream great dreams.

The grain that the sower planted has sprung up for the harvest;
The bread they broke on Calvary has fed all hungry, humble mouths.
Olives bud to life; once withered branches now grow fruit.
The barren shall bear their babes at last; the Shepherd
Shall find his sheep. The weak—the lame—shall walk and leap.

Our Father’s voice: the deaf shall hear it now unsealed.
Those with deep wounds, with blood congealed,
Those who are frail—all shall be healed.
The tongue of the dumb shall loudly praise him.
For Jesus our Lord from death shall raise them.

Shout it loud across the rooftops of Jerusalem;
Proclaim it over the whitening wheat-fields past the town:
The promise he wrote on our broken hearts,
The promise he made on our inmost parts:
This new-made Covenant—now, even now it starts!

© Lizzie Ballagher

IMG_1296

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