Roots

I’m guessing many followers of this blog have felt, at least once, that strange sense of belonging in a particular place—usually without fully understanding why. It’s a curious sensation, one I’ve revisited recently in this new poem: “Roots”.

Before long buried great-grandmothers knew to count the years,
We here took root. I know it in my bones
As I rustle over hawthorn leaves’ brown layers,
Or over opalescent beads of churchyard snowdrops,
Or as I roam across the uplands’ sky-flecked flint,
The clifftops & the chalk-striped fields of home.

From burnt-out stars, my dust, my DNA, my ashes—
All are here: the past, the present & the yet-to-come
In future generations’ tales already traced
And tracked on winding trails where, deep below,
Our roots run long & strong beneath the downs;
For miles—millennia & miles—they mine these hills.

From trunks, from tibias they spread their metatarsals
Drawing water from the pools & wells of rain,
From springs in folded clay & shale beds.
Their dry roots tangle, cleave & cling; turn & twine;
Drive fibrous fingers, thin phalanges in
Through waves and weaves of moss-stained greensand.

I feel the pulse and push of heart & foot,
The thrum of sap, the throb of blood,
The rise of hope without the reasons
While lives deep-rooted round me grow,
While trees green-shooted round me know
The stream & surge of changing seasons.

© Lizzie Ballagher

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Night and Stars

Antiphon

Through the ringing dark,
Shivering stars rain down
Arrows, dazzling showers of silver
To turn the steep night white.

Genuflecting in obeisance to those higher lights,
Small solar lamps, garden bling,
Flicker, dwindle, fade to silence
Beside the benighted lawn.

Breathless shadows blacken, lengthen
In the answering bleach of frost.

Over us, rising from the deep,
A chalk-sailed galleon—
Ghost-ship of the spectral moon—
Looms soundless, mute.

It leaves a white lace wake,
A fleece and glaze of hoarfrost
Across the grieving grass.
Midnight. Moonlight. Earthlight.

© Lizzie Ballagher

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New hope, new flowers

Snowdrops began to flower earlier than usual this year. When days are short and nights long, how comforting it is to see the year’s first flowers appear.

Snowdrop Day

A miniature arrow fired to the sun,
This tight white bud is no wax vanity,
Nor will it melt like frost.
The innocent flower inches up.

Milk-tipped, it drives between
Defeated grass darts (blades all
Blunted on the trodden soil
By blind & plodding footfall)

Then turns a corner, silent bell-head
Hanging in the ringing cold.

Opening now to January’s stark blue light
(Frail feather down, pale dove wings
Over cloudy olive waters)
This snowdrop floats amid

The hostile dreariness, the downright
Winter weariness of yet another
Alien new year’s landscape:
A little ark of hope.

© Lizzie Ballagher

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Looking both ways in the New Year

Every year around the first week in January, I find myself  looking back and at the same time looking forward. Time is strange stuff – an idea I explored in the poem here: “Time the Tyrant”.

Time the Tyrant

Time the tyrant, before first light

You strap me to your wrist:

Your slave.

You tether me, hour by hour, while

Relentless, you beat

The measure of my heaving heart; while

Ceaseless, you mete

The breaths of my so labouring lungs.

 

Faceless, you change the landscape of my face:

Warp the planes & cleave the valleys;

Armless, you clutch me, clamp me

To your cold embrace;

Tuneless, you whistle days away

Through cogged & clicking teeth.

Legless & heedless, you lurch on, march on,

Forever indifferent.

 

Time, you obdurate tyrant, dire dictator,

Dawn to dusk, rain to rust,

We have no true

Defence against you

Save hope trembling, cradled

In an alien manger.

 

© Lizzie Ballagher

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May peace and joy be yours this Christmas

I know I’m not alone in finding winter a difficult time of year. But when I look closely at what’s around us, I feel hope for what’s to come.

No Death in Winter

Whoever says these trees are dead
Come here, and see upon the brown
The small bud swelling.

And you, who say the birds have gone,
Stand still, and hear the thrushes’ song,
The wild birds’ calling.

Who says the frost will kill and chill?
Who says the ice has drawn its dagger?
Who says the wind will pierce the seed?

I say that sun will come again,
That melted ice will feed the seed,
That warming winds will draw the shoot,

That bud will break; that green will grow,
That flower unfurl—for winter shall conceive the spring.
© Lizzie Ballagher

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Poems and Paintings

Over the most recent weekend Lizzie and her friend and colleague Jacqueline Trinder worked together to create an exhibition and sale of watercolours and poems held as part of the annual Christmas fair at The Friars, Aylesford: a happy, warm weekend with some wonderful conversations with the many hundreds of visitors about poetry and paintings, music and pottery.

Many thanks to all who came to The Friars and joined them on the stand.

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Exciting New Opportunity

Poet in Residence for the South Downs Way – this is a new opportunity I’ve just been given to celebrate one of Britain’s longest and most wonderful national trails. Follow the link below to read the trail manager’s blog and see the start of a new venture for me as a writer. Who ever said poetry was a purely indoor activity?

http://www.nationaltrail.co.uk/south-downs-way/news/lizzie-ballagher-becomes-sdw-first-poet-residence

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November: No Man’s Month

In the northern hemisphere, November has long been a melancholy month—even before services of remembrance or stories from No Man’s Land. That phrase has always resonated with me; that’s why I wrote this short poem.

November: No Man’s Month
Fields ploughed, but not yet sown—
Except by pearls in spider webs
Or frost on tarnished stubble (scythèd sheer to
Earth’s crude clay).

Trees void, but still no snow–
Except where snowberries grow close to birches (flashing silver),
Or ash-trees (sprinkling grey among
Dark elm trunks).

Advent:
Christ promised, but not yet come—
Neither among the stubble stalks and razor wire of battlefields
Nor under cross-shaped stars
Nor to the lap of waiting Mary;
But only in the myrrh and frankincense of human lives.

© Lizzie Ballagher

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TOMORROW and SUNDAY! Christmas Poems and Christmas Gifts

To all who live in South-Eastern England: bring your family and come to the wonderful annual Christmas Fayre at The Friars, Aylesford, Kent on 29th or 30th November, entry between 10a.m. and 4p.m. both days. Full of all sorts of Christmas present ideas, including framed poetry by Lizzie Ballagher and watercolours by Jackie Trinder. Not to be missed. Oh, and bring your ice skates, too!

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