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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The dizzy taste of fresh blackcurrants

Just recently I’ve received the happy news that Poetry Space’s Summer Showcase will be featuring the poem shown below. Here, after a walk through currant fields just last summer, I recall the happy experience of growing up on a blackcurrant farm in Norfolk.

Blackcurrants

I hold the weight of light upon my palms:

Sprays and strands of wine-dark pearls strung

Perfectly from alchemy of rain & sun,

The pulse of summer’s hot & running blood

Shining, clotting on my fingers.

 

The heat of August sweetens, stains my hands

With fragrant orbs: purple, jewel-like (however small).

 

For now, I am summer’s queen again,

High on the handle-bar, riding aloft

Between rows & ripened rows of blackcurrants

On my father’s rotovator: around me the whiff

Of petrol & oil, the comfortable putt-putt

Of the churning motor as it chugs & chews

Through weeds & trampled ground.

 

With grubby hands I grab for currants,

Snatch at the light between the leaves.

 

Both escape my clutching fingers.

The dapple & ripple of green-starred growth

Flickers, skitters between them with nothing left

But the crimson smear of juice upon my skin:

The dazzling, fizzing, dizzy taste of fresh blackcurrants.

 

© Lizzie Ballagher

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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

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The darkest days in northern lands

It may not be as cold as usual for December, but the gathering darkness is just as deep, the days growing shorter still for another eighteen days yet.

In spite of winter’s chilly iron will, however, light and colour come bursting in from the air, especially around dawn. Here I celebrate that wonderful fact in the poem “By Bird Light”. I’m pleased to be able to report that Poetry Space has chosen this as one of its Winter Showcase poems—please visit the Poetry Space website to see more!

By Bird Light

At the morning’s opening show, my eyes
Are little more than dimmed footlights quenched

By first light:
Curtains of colour streak the east
And a silent dew leaks,
Seeps from hawthorn & holly leaves.
Ruffled, a pigeon-loft yawns;
Silver birds explode from the wings,
Whir & wheel & whirl around the rising maypole sun,
Laughing in a promenade more practised
Than all the jabbering moves of motley flocks:
Those extras—!  huddles of speckled sparrows
And startled backstage starlings on their props.

Half light:
The tree’s green lungs exhale goldfinches &
Dragonflies diaphanous in backlit gossamer;
Drafting their own migration paths, swifts & skimming swallows
Figure-skate on the thin, iced pane of the sky.
In the chorus robin answers robin
With a necklace of white song, dropping seed-pearl notes
As delicate as ballet steps on points
Among the gaudy, berry-beaded branches,
Among the spider webs that trap dawn’s light
In shivering cracked mirrors.

Daylight:
Now melodramatic blackbirds caught
In the surprise of a breeze
Exit stage right (stage fright)
In arcs of flashing dark fire;
Then settle—fluttering, muttering—fields away;
Meanwhile, deep in bruised hawthorn shadows,
A brimstone butterfly opens primrose wings,
Takes flight
On hazy, airy stairs
To boundless dancing spaces:

Light fantastic, feather light—
By bird light.

© Lizzie Ballagher

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Landscape’s Memory

Recently it’s struck me that human beings and animals aren’t the only ones with a memory. If there can be such a thing as inorganic memories, then surely some landscapes are proof that there’s a kind of memory in stone, shale, sand, and even soil… though perhaps not! Still, at least the scientists, seismologists and climatologists who dig into the earth’s crust to make sense of the past can read a marvellous sort of archive that serves a similar function. I find it consoling to think that when we’re all, as the song says, “dust in the wind”, there will remain parts of us in the composition of the earth that now we walk on.

Memory  

Somewhere in the hemispheres’ tight folds,
In the cavernous enormity of inner space:
Certainty, bedrock.

Above it, a warm inland sea,
Uncharted reefs, shoals shifting in unseen currents stoked
By the blazing core;
And over these again, the stratigraphic record
Of shale & soil. And of sacred soul—
Lost foot- and fingerprints, frond and feather-prints,
Fossils ossified, lithified in the lowest ledge, all hidden
Under drifting dunes, dissolving marl; the scoured sandstone
Of inner deserts, abandoned coastal plains;
All hidden under mountain ranges worn
To dusty stubs by time & tide & tempest.

A heave of memory
And the earth churns up, turns over:
Lifts, tilts, dips, jack-knifes, splits, is cloven
Until my spirit quakes.
But springs, lagoons soak through;
The subterranean groundwaters of joy
Bubble out, well up
Carving channels & runnels for light,
For comprehension of the unfathomable
Chaotic & uninhabitable world
Of what is past.

Here the level ribbon of time
Is rinsed & crimped, furled & unfurled,
Pulsed, pushed, hurled
As life’s pyroclastic flow sheds out,
Spreads out another layer
And another & another.
All strands & faults are weighed
Down, pressed down: overflowing
Far beyond a full measure
Where vaults & galleries echoed once
With emptiness.

Still, deep below the landscape long grassed over,
Somewhere in the hemispheres’ tight folds:
Steadfast bedrock.

© Lizzie Ballagher

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Spring is nearly here!

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
With streaks
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–
Then swoops
Plumb straight
To snatch
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.

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A little light in darkness

In all the years of walking beside water, I’ve never managed to capture a swan on camera. Does this poem do the trick?

By Black Waterside (on Romney Marshes)

Clouds lower, doubled in still water. Above,
Beneath, an iron-clad heron leaves its feasting ground,
Flaps skyward, neck retracted, clanking. Fierce
Yellow eyes, yellow beak pierce the predatory wind.

Pattering madly in the mud, its shy white egret
Cousin searches for a fishy morsel then, hearing us,
Takes to immaculate wings. How
Such perfection’s born of river slime, who knows.

Where water brims, grasses stir, rushes skirr
To the ripple of wind’s fingers, to the whisper of wave rings
Flung wildly: marsh and air and water linked—
As wedded as the bride and bridegroom swans.

Swans! Now silkweed parts, and under a lazy sun
Bending to horizontal in stark November light
Great birds sail, murmur and whistle; stretch pale necks
Like candlefire into the dark, inverted arcs

Of gothic lancets formed of sedge and reed.
Just so … swans’ down blows down, snows down.
Curls, swirls of feathers rest, nest and turn on brown silt banks.
By black waterside, swans flex white wings like seraphim.

© Lizzie Ballagher

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Ashdown Autumn

Earth:
Pleat after crease of hillside and heath blends
Into the long indigo distance
Where earth becomes

Air:
Coil after curl of cumulus & cirrus ascends
Into the fleece-frothing emptiness
Where air becomes

Water:
Drop after drip of rainsquall & dewfall descends
Into the cloud-shadowed wilderness
Where water becomes

Earth
Becomes air
Becomes water, yet still
No radiant heat until

In the forge of the forest
Brawny-limbed blacksmith beeches
Strike out sparks & kindle flames
On autumn’s fearsome anvil:

Fire!

© Lizzie Ballagher

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