Winter Returns

A new haiku

horizontal snow
lashes, strikes with knotted whips
at a bruised blue world

Words and image © Lizzie Ballagher

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It’s National Poetry Day

In celebration of 2017’s National Poetry and in honour of a family birthday today, I hope readers of this blog will enjoy this poem:

Postcard to Two Grand-Daughters
(or She Stoops to Conkers)

On the day when you became a loving sister;
And on the day when you were born,
I waded ankle-deep in spring-like grass
Under a burnished tree to gather horse chestnuts:
Rich globes of silky wood still varnished
With the oil of their thick satin casings.
I chose the glossiest, the shiniest,
Just as your parents chose you, too, you two:
A pair of bright stars in their loving eyes—
And in mine four thousand miles away.

Look—take them! In your baby hands you hold
The world & all your two sweet lives. You could
Dry them, preserve them in vinegar & bake them,
Knot them on strings & bash them in that old playground sport
Until they split & you can’t play for giggling.
Or you could open up your mother’s precious oil paints
And portray each chestnut’s singular loveliness
On a field of springy grass & autumn leaves.
Or you might turn them into castanets
And dance a tarantella in a swirl of skirts.

Or else, like me, your wordsmith grandmother,
You could grow a shiny conker
From the chestnut tree
Into happy poetry.

Words and image © Lizzie Ballagher

 

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

 

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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A Shepherd

Walking the South Downs Way last year, we met several shepherds. At this time of year, Easter, I find it moving to think of the paradox of one who is both shepherd and sheep.

Agnus Dei

You do not break the doors down
Of our bolted hearts.
You do not shake the walls down
Of our meagre shells & shelters.
The only way you know,
The only way you go
Into the grounded stable of our lives,
Into the wounded sheepfold of our souls
Is close to earth & down upon your knees.

Then & only then do you stand
In our benighted midst—
Right in the thick
Of your bewildered flock
(The cloven hooves & bleating mouths)
To keep us, Shepherd, in the steady gaze
Of your all-seeing eyes;
To graze us, Shepherd, in the mazy meadows
Of your green & boundless sheep-fields.

Sentinel & watchman, you rise
With lantern lofted high
Amid the mist & darkness
Of our fractured farms
To rescue us, to lift us in your arms.
You heed us, heal us,
Lead us, feed us
And rest your loving cross & crook
Upon our bowing backs.

Hear us, patient Prince with nought but thorns for crown.
Steer us, King & compass, Lord & lodestar clear.
Be near us, Lamb & Shepherd dear.

© Lizzie Ballagher

Easter 2015

 

This Friday IS good.

Crown of Thorns

Head dipped below its slightest weight,
Eyes glazed with double suffering,
Did Jesus dream the garden
Where he played in childhood,
Where damask roses knotted, clotted red & white
Across an arch once crafted by his earthly father Joseph?
Do not believe such maudlin fantasies!

Whatever Pyotr Ilych thought
On looking at the tenth Station (where Christ was stripped
Of all His garments & took on that vicious coronet),
The thorny crown was not a crimson ring of roses;
That so-called garland caused no dainty drops
Of scarlet blood-petals on Jesus’ blessed brow;
It did not smell of sweetness but of sweated, abject anguish.

A parish artist, though (a score of centuries later
In a hidden church among the folded fields)
Conceived a vision of that torment.
In remembrance of that day he made
A wheel of infinite woe, infinite sorrow
On a hoist as high as a gallows tree
Below the stark Alpha of black-block roof beams;

He wove a circle of wooden spikes & branches:
A twist of twigs with stubs & sticks & strands & spines of pain,
A jagged agony & testament to human butchery.
Two thousand years now gone below the bridge Christ built
Between the earth and heaven, between the temple curtain torn in twain,
The crown of thorn still witnesses
The Truth:

Who wept alone in olive dusk above Gethsemane;
Who hung amid the skulls & rubbish on high Calvary;
Who rose, in spite of death; came back to us in Galilee.

© Lizzie Ballagher

Notes
Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky composed a Good Friday anthem for children called “Legend” which was translated into English by W G Rothery. In this song he imagines that the child Jesus gathered roses that would one day form his crown of thorns.

The parish artist is Keith Pettit of Creation Signs, East Sussex, UK.

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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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