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

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Nine Days

My mother was no more enthusiastic about sewing than I am, but she sewed well and encouraged me to learn from her. It’s only now that she’s not around any more to support and advise that I appreciate just how knowledgeable she was, and just how many hours she spent each week sewing because – in a time of scarcity – there was no choice but to sew one’s own clothes and furnishings…and mend them, too.

Over nine days, I’ll be publishing short extracts from a new nine-part poem. It begins here.

My Mother’s Book of Hours: Novena

I

Double beech-wood covers yawn wide as a cathedral bible

To yield their treasures,

And suddenly we’re unearthing from the sewing box

The scriptures of our family history—

Here, in all their muddled glory.

(c) Lizzie Ballagher

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Enduring Love

Not that love is a test of endurance! But real love “lasts long as granite in New England / Quite as cruel” – it has its highs and lows. Above all, it lasts! I wrote this song to celebrate love; enjoy it, those who celebrate Valentine’s Day.

Stubborn Love

You may as well ask

Fires not to rage on summer’s forest floor;

Grainy sands not to shift on the endless shore.

 

You may as well ask

Sweet rain not to fall on the field or the lea;

Rivers not to run down their valleys to the sea.

 

You may as well ask

Roses not to bloom in a bright morning’s dawn;

Oak trees not to hold fast in wild winter storms.

 

Oh, you may as well ask me

To stop living,

To stop moving,

To stop giving,

To stop loving—

Oh, you may as well ask.

 

You may as well ask

Spring tides not to rise in the moon-crescent bay;

Comets not to blaze their fierce light far away.

 

You may as well ask

High stars not to glow in the inky night,

Or time not to fly like an arrow in flight.

 

You may as well ask

The fiery sun not to set deep in the west;

The moon not to roll in its orbit to rest.

 

Oh, you may as well ask me

To stop living,

To stop moving,

To stop giving,

To stop loving—

Oh, you may as well ask.

 

© Lizzie Ballagher

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Advent – an underestimated season?

In spite of the gloomy northern weather that usually plagues December, I like this time of year: not just because Christmas is around the corner, but for its own sake. Advent makes me stop and take stock of where I’m heading and why; who’s going along the journey with me and why. I love getting those unexpected phonecalls from cousins and friends far away (New Zealand, Boston, Somerset, Melbourne…); I love the electronic and card greetings from people who’ve taken time to acknowledge that I might matter to them as much as they matter to me.

 So here’s a poem I wrote a while ago to celebrate this unique, wonderful time of year. It appeared this month on the back of Far East magazine. Christmas poems will follow…at Christmas!

Advent poem

© Lizzie Ballagher

 

It’s National Poetry Day today!

Paper Dolls

Scissored, yet not severed,

Hand in hand, paper dolls unfold
In concertina form:
Heads & hands all level,
Shadow hearts beating between;
Feet all dancing the same straight floor,
If not to the same time,
If not to the same dance.

Hands stretch in telespace.
I speak to you, & you, by text & telephone & Skype:
Daughter to mother,
Mother to grandmother
In the miracle of melting miles,
No daughter without a mother.
Holding hands to heaven, we tread

The endless Eden dance.

© Lizzie Ballagher

Paper Dolls

Spring at the start of autumn

Here is the second of two poems recently commended by poet John Siddique in the 2015 Poetry Space international competition: a reminder of spring at the start of autumn. Happy those in the southern hemisphere right now!

View from a High, High Window
Wind stirs the starred uncurling leaves
Beyond this glass, between these eaves,
And the long town settles with a sigh.

Blue twilight pulls a blanket on the day–
The great uneven bed of it–spreading,
Shouldering night across hunched rooftops.

Now night sets out the seedling lights
The way your lover’s hands set out
Spring seeds within the rain-dark earth.

Then lights bloom bright as paths of marigolds
Which I would tread with cool bare feet
To follow to your arms, your sleep.

© Lizzie Ballagher

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Those who have walked this way before us

On Old Winchester Hill

High on Old Winchester Hill, I wonder:

Did Victorian archaeologists miss the point

With their methodical measuring tapes,

Their neat white note-cards & their tapping trowels;

Their careful record books & counted shards

Of flint & iron & pottery?

 

The hill is healed now of all diggings: hollows & barrows

Softened by falling rain, by grass & honeyed clover,

By golden gorse & trefoil; by thistledown & scabious;

By poppies’ red splash & purple coils of rampant vetch.

Now rock-hard ramparts, humps & clumps of earth are blurred:

Jumbled by time & tempest, roots & rabbits.

 

What’s left to mark the memory of ancient ancestors

And long-lost clans?—those who lived before the builders of Stonehenge,

Before Romans drove their roads in dead straight lines & marched to ruin,

Before Arthur cantered out with wandering knights

Or Alfred was enthroned in royal halls at Winchester—

What’s left to mark their memory?

 

Only this: a gentle wooden seat to rest upon with you,

To stare back down & through the ages;

And this: our love shall last, not overlords.

We carry seeds of sweetness in our plantings

As surely as feathered corn-cockles flare

Open for another summer & another—

 

As surely as the children born to us

Will walk upon this hilltop once:

Their eyes fixed on the azure glory of the sky,

Their feet sunk deep in kingly blue of cornflowers

And golden hoards of seed-heads where today we go

In tracks of those who settled here six thousand years ago.

 

© Lizzie Ballagher

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Shadow-Dancing on Day Four

Thanks again to Poetry Space’s Sue Sims for the prompt to write this series of poems.

Well, Now I Don’t Care

What Shoes I Wear

 

When I’m dancing with you

I no longer care

What shoes I wear;

Or who would mock & stare.

I might not even notice—so it goes—

If you trod on my toes.

 

In your arms, in love so lapped,

I’m weightless & breathless, so enrapt!

I’m yours forever, just as we meet—

You’ve swept me off my dancing feet.

Who cares what shoes I wear?

We are one dancer—a feeling so rare.

 

© Lizzie Ballagher

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Landscape, love, and long views

This poem now appears as well on the trail manager’s blog for the South Downs Way.

Ribbons

Untangle the knot;
Let ribbons unroll, uncurl at our feet:
Not the burning yellow ribbon wrapped around
A tree for some returning sweetheart;
Not the crimson ribbon of garlands at Christmastime,
Or broken hearts, or silken Valentines;
Not the black & lilac ribbons rustling
Their sibilance of sadness, sorrow & sighs.

Unravel the bow;
Let ribbons whirl, swirl at our feet:
The silver ribbons of roads to ride on
To places we have loved to be & longed to see;
The azure ribbon of skies to fly in, where jet-streams
Vanish behind us in little clouds of vapour dreams;
The turquoise ribbon of salty sea-lanes to sail on,
Waves frothing with kittiwakes & herring gulls.

Untangle the knot; unravel the bow.
Send us along the straggling, way-worn ribbons
Of trailway & pathway over distant downland
Where we shall walk together, side by side;
Where the dappled, dusty ribbon of every road,
Of every track we pass & every street,
Is the rhythm of our feet, our feet, our feet.
And—no—don’t roll out any red carpet. Not for us.

© Lizzie Ballagher

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Leaving Home

IMG_0022Morning moves like a lover:
Slow, and arching over.

Day comes grey as a dovewing,
Patient and soft as the breast
Of a thrush on its nest—
The beating down of birdwing.

No moon, no stars, no bite
Of winter yet in paling light,
But no, no mercy either
In this eastern earliness.

Now you breathe the rhythm of my dawn,
Skin damp on mine; close, warm;
But far away from us
A cold bird summons, calls,

And the veiled air curls,
White, already autumn chilled:
Deep clouds dip down, hang fullness.
The loud cock crows, cracks stillness.

Wet grasses rise to my face’s hollows;
Willow and elder stand beaded and bowed,
Damsoned and drooping
As I must leave you sleeping.

How morning breaks
My heart!

© Lizzie Ballagher