Of Mice & Men

I have good memories of Reading Museum, near where I spent part of my growing up years: an endlessly fascinating place! Some of the exhibits did however make me sad; and that sadness returns to me now, sometimes, when for whatever reason the world seems bleak. More than ever, human beings need to take better care of each other and of their environment.

The Mouse’s Revenge

Aeons ago (when I was seven

In an age innocent of screens), I pressed my button

Nose against the warm museum window,

Looking out on perspectives prehistoric

To see a lumbering monochrome dinosaur

Heave its wrinkly bulk across a sandpaper plain

At the drop of a magician’s hat.

And then I pulled a lever and cardboard lava

(Sometimes) spewed from the marvellous vermilion volcano:

Cold fire and molten rocks that fell no hotter

Than the dim-bulb sun supposed to light the scene.

I followed dogged families on creaking floors

To mourn the blank-eyed taxidermy bears

And tattered family trees

Of branching monkeys and Neanderthals,

Of mud-churning mammoths and heart-broken hominids;

The tigers sans their sabre-teeth or claws,

The lizards in formaldehyde,

The dusty bones at rest on hessian. And one

Tiny extinct mouse with delicate tail and paws.

 

A week ago (when I turned forty-seven

In an age innocent of silence), I touched a key

And opened windows on an incandescent screen,

Looking out on perspectives futuristic

To see designer infants perfectly conceived

From frozen bank and sterile glass

At the drop of a genetic code.

And then I pressed more buttons and white-hot lasers lanced

Blazing polychrome across the whizzing page,

And faxes squealed and spewed their unrelenting messages

Through sabre-toothed, cruel circuits,

And satellites beamed and bounced cold brightness

On gibbering telescreens in every jellied corner.

I followed dogma-driven technocrats on waves of sound and light

To marvel at the intricacies of surf and net,

While processors crunched numbers and broke bones,

And printers churned data and broke hearts—until

With a whisk of wired tail, with one quick electronic click,

My plastic mouse

Had silenced all.

 

© Lizzie Ballagher

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An Age of Communication?

How will the early 21st century be remembered? The digitally preoccupied may say, “as a communications age”. Well, I wonder if that’s the true experience of many. Or are we – increasingly – speaking into the vacancy of cyberspace? Surely nothing will (or could ever) replace the sort of communication that takes place between people face to face; it is such a crucial part of what makes us human.

This is why I long for a world where small, shimmering screens are not viewed as substitutes for open-hearted conversation, lively debate, friendly exchange of useful information, and the sort of kind, attentive listening that relies as much on the face and body language of another as on the words spoken or written. (And, yes, I do understand the irony that I am writing this blog on a small, shimmering screen.)

I wrestled with this dilemma some years ago in the two poems that follow. Here is the first, with the second to follow soon.

Communications Age

Microchips track criminals,

And wires along the line explain

Why with the wrong kind of leaves, or rain

The trains are stalled.

 

Sharp missives dart through outer space

Between pedestrian earth and bold sky walkers,

Between Whitehall, White House and heedless talkers

In benighted cyberspace.

 

Laser beacons bounce bright beams, fiercer far

Than any lost Napoleonic flames,

While satellites dish up news like microwaved

Hot meals—burning, instant—of some exploding war.

 

Yet still I dream an age when we shall chart

Thick distance from the head to heart.

 

© Lizzie Ballagher

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Hello summer

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

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