May-time Haiku

What is it about this time of year (in the northern hemisphere, at least) that inspires hope? The newness of green leaves? The plans for summer and autumn travels? The freshness of opening flowers? All of these and more?

And in the midst of all the bursting and calling out, the explosion of music and colour, suddenly we hear small, hidden voices…

from honeysuckle:

faint cries of new-hatched finches

breaking blue eggshells

Words and image © Lizzie Ballagher

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Glorious Friday

On this day every year people say, “What’s so good about Good Friday?”—a question I consider quite often these days.

So here’s my attempt to address this painful, deeply paradoxical question.

Glory, Glory
A star bathed shepherds’ hills in light
The night that Christ was born—
Was this the glory of God?

Stone jars of water turned to wine
At Cana on that wedding day:
And was this the glory of God?

The lame man walked. The blind could see.
The leper left his sores behind.
So was this the glory of God?

The women grieved & Jesus wept.
Then Lazarus was restored to life.
Was this not the glory of God?

Under waving palms & cheering cries
He rode a humble donkey colt.
Surely this was the glory of God?

Stripped to a loincloth,
Nailed to a tree,
Shamed before friend & foe—

He was lifted high
On a cruel cross.
Does glory shine out here?

The temple curtain tore in two.
The voice of His Father was heard.
Glory. Glory!—more than ever in this world.

Stripped to a loincloth,
Nailed to the tree,
This—even this—was the glory of God.

© Words Lizzie Ballagher.  Image of Lampedusa Cross © Trustees of the British Museum only, used by permission.

Grief and Hope

So many people face bereavement at this time of year, and in the past few months three friends or close family members of friends have died. Remembering them, both in giving thanks for their lives (two short and the other long), I am today sharing a poem I wrote two years ago. Perhaps this poem comforts only me; but so many light candles to reflect and remember, all over the world, that I hope this poem reaches out to others, as well.

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.

Words and image © Lizzie Ballagher

 

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.

 

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

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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

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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

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