By Black Waterside

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

swan-c-val-lloyd

 

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Summer walk on the South Downs

Last year we came to a place on the South Downs Way that seemed unremarkable…except for the gigantic trees emerging from the swirling mist. Later, this poem was another thing that emerged from those mists!

At Hyden Cross

Summer rides at full pelt & we step

Under the easy rush of hazy, heady southern air

Where hills are near invisible & we are almost lost

Among the criss-crossed lanes, the drizzle

Of drifting clouds descending, dripping,

Dimming those warm, ripe distances.

 

Our downland world is furred & blurred,

All mosses velvet, tufted, soft along the path,

And our feet soundless, weightless on the cushioned loam.

For us the sole realities are hazels trailing honeysuckle

With tendrils of perfume as curled & intertwined

As the vines themselves. And wild white garlic-stars

Among the smell of last year’s leaves on settled earth:

The rich fragrance of woods in summertime.

 

At Hyden Cross the path is flanked by beeches.

Rising into the morning fog, they arch around us,

Substantial in the mist’s shape-shifting shadows.

In this dreamscape only they are solid, tangible,

Though all their leaves lift & vanish into lacy light.

So, trembling, we go below them as on holy ground.

 

© Lizzie Ballagher

2015-07-13 10.34.05

Winchester Trilogy III

Here’s the final poem in the Winchester series. It marks the end of our one hundred mile walk from Eastbourne to Winchester…which took us a long time!

III      Two Walkers

The path delivers us, worn weary
With all the walking, down the last long hopper
Of the rolling trail. And so we are harvested
Earthy as rough grain
From the wind & rain of the track.

We are come to the end of a pilgrimage.
We are come home, come back.

Now buffeted & footsore
We are refined like wheat,
Sifted like fine white flour,
Now shaking the dust from our coats, our feet.
Worn, yes, but reborn on reaching

The end of the long southern ridge:
The end of our South Downs pilgrimage.

© Lizzie Ballagher

2015-09-06 14.04.51

Angels and Strangers

Sometimes it’s the small acts of kindness that keep you going. This was true for us recently on one of England’s hot days (rare so far this year), when a young couple at the sign of the Hoodener’s Horse in Great Chart – a small village deep in Kent – shared their hospitality with us.

Angels & Strangers

Knotted, footsore, eyes gritty with greensand,
Mouths parched as shattered pot-shards,
We tread the weary pilgrim track, eyes reaching
For the bastion of the box-towered church:
For sanctuary stalwart on the horizon.

And then along that ancient path we come
To a welcome watering hole.

No beasts are here, but a young pair
With quiet, clear eyes and kind hands:
Cake freely brought, coffee bought: both served
With smiles & stories at a wooden table top
Under the swinging sign of The Hoodener’s Horse:

Rare resting place for thirsty souls
Past the bend of bridge & brook & village high-road.

Written with thanks to the staff at The Hoodener’s Horse, Great Chart, Kent

© Lizzie Ballagher2015-05-04 09.54.06

Landscape, love, and long views

This poem now appears as well on the trail manager’s blog for the South Downs Way.

Ribbons

Untangle the knot;
Let ribbons unroll, uncurl at our feet:
Not the burning yellow ribbon wrapped around
A tree for some returning sweetheart;
Not the crimson ribbon of garlands at Christmastime,
Or broken hearts, or silken Valentines;
Not the black & lilac ribbons rustling
Their sibilance of sadness, sorrow & sighs.

Unravel the bow;
Let ribbons whirl, swirl at our feet:
The silver ribbons of roads to ride on
To places we have loved to be & longed to see;
The azure ribbon of skies to fly in, where jet-streams
Vanish behind us in little clouds of vapour dreams;
The turquoise ribbon of salty sea-lanes to sail on,
Waves frothing with kittiwakes & herring gulls.

Untangle the knot; unravel the bow.
Send us along the straggling, way-worn ribbons
Of trailway & pathway over distant downland
Where we shall walk together, side by side;
Where the dappled, dusty ribbon of every road,
Of every track we pass & every street,
Is the rhythm of our feet, our feet, our feet.
And—no—don’t roll out any red carpet. Not for us.

© Lizzie Ballagher

2015-02-16 13.57.33

News from Hampshire

News just in is that all the writing and walking are coming together again in and along the South Downs Way. This month, for the February issue, Hampshire Life Magazine is running a piece about our ongoing trek from Eastbourne to Winchester. By all means have a look at the South Downs Way and Hampshire Life websites for inspiration!

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