The Blackthorn Speaks

In spite of what some people seem to think, there is no such person as one with nothing to offer to human society. All of us have strengths, and all of us manifest weaknesses. That thought prompts me to repost this poem, which, despite its title and the pretty photo, obviously isn’t just about trees.

The Blackthorn Speaks

Before you lift the shaft
Of your bright blade on the bare bones of my black bark;
Before you come with the craft and crack
Of that cruel axe;
Before you take the cold-hearted hack
Of cheerless haste to chop me down—

Stop. Hold, & heed:

My roots run deep & steep.
Their old fingers, scrabbling & scratching, find treasures
In the filth, redeeming soot & soil
For lustrous pearls of blue-black sloes.
O, bitter they may be; while my spines
Stab out the scarlet sap of your dear blood—

Still. Show mercy:

Let me bloom among the greenwood trees
Another spring, another & another.
Let me unfold from twisted twigs the starry spray—
The foam & spume, white-frothed—of perfect flowers
To crown your head, your brow, though
Gathered, garlanded on such imperfect boughs.

Stand. Do your worst:

Cut my broken branches, if you must,
But let me long outlive you;
For you will surely turn as knotted, contorted, stunted as I,
Yet full of sweetness in the honeyed heartwood;
So shall I grow to be the prop of your old age,
A thorny shillelagh, if you will—

Stay. I, ancient blackthorn,
Plead for my life.

© 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

 

Eclipse

For most people in the UK, March’s solar eclipse was a bit of a non-event. Even so, what struck me about it was the way, with encroaching darkness, all spring birdsong stopped. Thank you, Pauline Pilcher, for the wonderful eclipse photo taken from the Faroes that day!

Eclipse *

The pod of morning unfolds with a flower of evening;
So daybreak begins with a kind of mourning—
A lament for the failing of lovely light.

As winds drop out, the lively leaves (first blush of buds
In canary yellow, woodpecker green)
Swing loose in the sudden breathless stillness,
Velvet chains hanging slack in willows.

Woodpigeons cease their murmuring mutter,
Thrushes their exultant singing.
Starlings stop their burbling chatter.
Even crooning collared doves fall quiet;
They fan their tails, preen plumage, rest & roost.
All soft winged things are hushed.

The willows’ lush spring waterfalls haul in
All folded feathers, muted birds; they make
Small vivid dashes, splashes of colour
In the leaden, dwindling light.

And skies tilt down—the sun’s great bonfire dips
To smoke. Already it is dusk: deep dusk.
The Earth’s husk tips. Eclipse!

© Lizzie Ballagher
* Solar eclipse 20th March, 2015

Eclipse 20th March 2015, photo (c) Pauline Pilcher

Image (c) Pauline Pilcher

 

Bluebell Season Starts

This post is for Sue and for other fellow writers on Poetry Space and cyberspace beyond, with thanks for all the encouragement!

BLUE EARTH, GREEN LIGHT

Cut the earth and it bleeds
Blue blood:
Bluebells among the brutal butchery
Of coppiced beech, of oak corpses
Felled
By cacophonous winds
This winter gone.

While heaven’s hue falls
Full
In ocean pools, cobalt
Below the April leaves,
And cuckoos
Brand the air with heartbreak,
Blue earth gives out green light.

Cut the earth and it bleeds
Blue blood:
Bluebells under the frill and trill
Of singing green, of winging green
Feathered
By starry-eyed blackbirds
This slow, slow spring.

© Lizzie Ballagher

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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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The Wrong Kind of Leaves

Raking leaves was an autumn task I enjoyed when I lived in the US. British Rail once coined the phrase “the wrong kind of leaves on the lines”, but I don’t think there are any such things as the wrong kind of leaves. They look more than all right to me!

Raking

When first I heard them say
They ought to rake in all New England’s leaves—
Fiery eruption and fall-out from every hot
Volcanic tree in Massachusetts—
I laughed the madness of it
After leaves were soaked and sodden,
But raked beside them anyway:
Cooled coals in the rake’s dark teeth
On the cloudy coldness of a sullen,
Snow-driven Thanksgiving
With ashy whiteness in my heavy, leaf-brown hair.

And now the clear October ten years on
Sees me rise to this autumnal ritual
I was not born to, raised to
Under the damp, knobbed trunks of English lindens
Lined lovely in a leafy row down Derby Road,
Where leaf led to loam beneath in days, not weeks.

My sapling son, still seed then
In another’s body, unopened acorn
Then unknown in the branch of my own,
Now laughs the folly of it—
Leaps, shoots leafily as we rake
The conflagration of all of New York’s leaves.

I bend to the sweat of them
Making blazing mountains, raking
Wetly clinging leaf on leaf
Shining with showers, still—light,
Frosted frigid by night on night,
Parched paper-thin by molten sun on sun.

My mouth opens round crisp air
As I rake to the rasp and gasp of it,
And my arm aches to the heave of leaves in the barrow.
Now my back breaks to the turn of the steep shovel
In the black clay of the autumn day as I furrow in
This year’s glory for next year’s plenty.

© Lizzie Ballagher

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