sweet mown grass cuts a wide swathe
through my memory
Words & Image © Lizzie Ballagher
On a Japanese Banner: Four Haiku for the Samurai
like spring’s blasting gale:
strike against all walls to crack—
break—thick bulwarks down
like summer’s forest:
stand tall in tranquillity—
grow wise in calmness
like autumn’s tree-fire:
flame up—burn across the land—
devastate your foe
like winter mountains:
hold hard—all cloaked in snowfall—
stay firm in fastness
Words © Lizzie Ballagher.
Image: traditional hata sashimono (feudal war banner) as carried by Takeda Shingen in the sixteenth century
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.
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
For five years I drove to work daily over the old bridge to the Isle of Sheppey. I came to love the island’s wild beauty: its low-lying marshes that mirrored the enormous skies and gleaming light; and its open-hearted hospitality. My work began there in mid-winter and ended in mid-summer – hence the “hail and farewell” of this poem.
Ave Atque Vale
The year’s midnight thickens.
Wind-raked, the island stiffens, tightens
Under the crack of ice;
Soil shrivels, earth dwindles
While the muted sun claws its way
Over a straight horizon.
My own skin shrinks, cold.
The year’s noontide widens.
Heat-baked, the island stretches, loosens
Under the weight of light;
Harvest bleaches all land blond
While the sun pounces like a tiger
Bellying its way over flattened fields;
And my own skin smiles, now warm.
(c) Lizzie Ballagher
We’re about to set out on more summer walks along the ridge of the South Downs Way – probably in the rain! Today, though, the sun is baking most of southern England.
Before these fields turn yellow as a Van Gogh reverie,
Before those rooks descend and cast
Dark shadows squawking on the grain,
Stand here & watch the meadows grow:
The longed-for greening of the naked ground.
Before the harvester rolls down with sharpened shears,
See arrowed spears dart up—
Fescue & timothy in chalk & loam;
See blade tips bristle, soft as painters’ brushes,
A watercolour haze on fallow-field horizons:
Tufted, wafted, wavy in the mill-wheel of the wind;
Brush-stroked with milky strands of corn-silk,
Sap-streaked, gingered with bees, rain-washed—
A veil of sprouts & stalks (& later seed-heads)
Rising, cresting in a tide, a sea of green.
And afterwards, look! Grasses are studded
With thistle & poppy, spectrum-ends flashing
Violet, scarlet in the blaze of August’s arc-lamp:
Pixel-thin stems stripe an Impressionist landscape,
Luminous with absinthe light on grasslands’ stretching canvas.
© Lizzie Ballagher