For five years I drove to work daily over the old bridge to the Isle of Sheppey. I came to love the island’s wild beauty: its low-lying marshes that mirrored the enormous skies and gleaming light; and its open-hearted hospitality. My work began there in mid-winter and ended in mid-summer – hence the “hail and farewell” of this poem.
Ave Atque Vale
The year’s midnight thickens.
Wind-raked, the island stiffens, tightens
Under the crack of ice;
Soil shrivels, earth dwindles
While the muted sun claws its way
Over a straight horizon.
My own skin shrinks, cold.
The year’s noontide widens.
Heat-baked, the island stretches, loosens
Under the weight of light;
Harvest bleaches all land blond
While the sun pounces like a tiger
Bellying its way over flattened fields;
And my own skin smiles, now warm.
(c) Lizzie Ballagher
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.
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.
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
Spring Comes to the Island
At the parting of the choking seas,
Between the banking up of alien blooms,
The chariots of philistines
Rage and roar and ride across
As a raw wind stipples the water,
As a blue wind ripples the rape–
And their blinding road is frilled
With foaming flowers.
Those rape fields slash and burn the innocent countryside
Of oily yellow:
A gallery of violent Van Gogh canvases,
A brainstorm of suicidal painters,
And the live earth smokes and smolders
While a sharp hawk shoulders
That wind, menacing
The feathered sky,
The bright-eyed, whiskered ground–
A little pollen-dusted vole.
© Lizzie Ballagher
Oil-seed rape may not be everyone’s favourite crop, but after the greys of winter, how wonderful to see the light of spring reflected in the colours of the landscape.