Happily the South East Walker magazine (a quarterly) has just published this poem in its December 2016 issue. Written in a previous December, “By Black Waterside” celebrates the harsh beauty of the wild and watery place that is Romney Marsh. The sight of vibrant birdlife in that dark, wintry landscape is hard to forget.
By Black Waterside
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
© Image copyright Val Lloyd