Another memory – of my grandmother’s house

My grandmother lived during most of my childhood in East Sussex, southern England. We often visited her for a few days in her old cottage (which, sadly, is no longer standing); and in this poem I recall one of the memories I have of her house.


On the north side of Granny’s house

A timbered door was always shut,

Wrought iron latch dropped neatly in its heavy catch.


The silent message was loudly eloquent:

Do not enter. But we had to know

Its mysteries, the marvels beyond that threshold.


So when her back was turned

We crept along the polished passageway

Treading softly as we could, barefoot,


Then two stone steps down

To the icy dimness of quarry tiles

And piles and banks and ranks


Of jellies and jams, hams and jars of Seville marmalade

All tightly sealed with wax, perhaps

Beside a loaf of new-baked bread or dome of cheese—


Don’t let the mice in please


All just barely visible in fitful light

That filtered through the wire-mesh fly-screen

Over a granite slab


Where, sometimes, in spite of Granny’s

Industrious housewifery, tidy domesticity,

The summer rain came slanting in.


© Lizzie Ballagher

Memories Without Words

Before Words

Before there were words,

Before trees & flowers & birds

Had names

And under morning’s first holy light,

I played below juniper trees

In dry brown dust where no rain fell.


Then scrambled out

To where my mother bent, planting lupins

In the fine damp loam

A rake’s length away:

Lupin leaves studded with rain beads

At their hearts.


I had no words, no names

For the soft rosettes of leaves

Or the junipers’ incense:

Just the wonder of diamonds on greenness,

With trees’ fronds brushing my face—

The heaven of their scent floating round me.


Some say

We have no memory

Until we have vocabulary.

And yet, a mystery:

Before words,

I do remember.


© Words, Lizzie Ballagher.  Images: with thanks to Pinterest.

Lupins found in a cultivated bed in Tekoa, Washington

Cracks in Pavements

Throughout the 1990s (and to a lesser extent for a further decade) I worked with children who were on the autistic spectrum. In this poem, first published in 1994 by the National Autistic Society, (NAS), I imagine being parent to such a child – all too often quite misunderstood: a child who experiences information overload in almost every waking moment; a child who sees and responds to the world differently from his or her peers; a child, in fact, who is “differently abled”.

My Son

Someone smiled at him just now

When we were coming back from town

With Safeway bags bulging—

When we were trudging


Up the heavy steps to our front gate—

Someone smiled at him;

At a boy dreamy-eyed and humming, as he swung

The shopping, counting the cracks in the pavement


So he could tell his dad

The definitive count,

And no mistaking—

But someone smiled at him


And he lost count,

Cringed back against the wall,

Howled, howled

Like a parody of his toddler self…


And now sits rocking, rocking

By the radiator,

Counting to ensure

The folds in its metallic warmth


Still number twelve;

Counting for his security,

Counting to cast out

The yawning crack


In the pavement

Made by someone’s careless smile.


© Lizzie Ballagher