On the Margins

Read this as you will. Sometimes, walking along the side of a wide piece of land, I start thinking about as much about the metaphor of the path as about the path itself.

Hedges & Edges

We go ever on the margins:
On the dusky ways between dawn & day,
On the tracks between grieving and dancing,
On the paths between sunlight & starlight.

We travel along the wheat field’s edges:
Between burned-out grasses & ripened grain,
Between plough-blades’ brutal mastery & the distant
Good intentions of flooded ditch & broken gate.

We tread beside the beguiling bind & twine
Of wildflowers blowing in the hedgerow;
Under birdsong murmuring from bramble arches
And the babble of skylarks in clouds of barley.

We step beside hazel-wands bent, laid & woven
Into ancient hedge tapestries by men with cunning hands;
Beside the shrewder wisdoms of song-thrushes & wrens
That build their nests in secret twig-forks.

Always we walk on the margins, on the edges
Of doubt, despair & giddy exaltation—
Any time & every time we climb the steep, slow hills of hope
Above, beside, those sunlit starry hedges.

© Lizzie Ballagher

new hedge laid to hornbeam, hazel and birch nr Hothfield2015-05-25 13.10.26IMG_1045

Shadow Dancers

In this final post on dancing, I imagine someone I once knew who played the piano for ballet dancers: someone who never drew attention to himself – just played.

Shadow Dancers

High summer’s light—June light—and curtains
At French windows shift in air invisible.
Fiercely frowning, alone, an old man bows to the piano keys.
His fingers flash & fly, strike black & white alike.
Behind him, he hears pale dancers
Who are not there,
Who might return (or not),
Who once were here (but now are not)—

Hears them slip, skip, step to his fingers’ lift & lilt;
Hears at the shining grand-piano keyboard
The schuss, the brush, the hush of silken shoes
On polished gold-grained floorboards
As his hands follow & give chase:
Shadow & reach
Echo & overlap
Criss-cross & race.

His fingers stretch & span the keys
While dancers spin & leap the fifths & octaves.
Around him, around the ones who are not there,
Mirrors gleam back lightness of steps; glass
Beams back the dazzle of brilliant notes:
Waiting for the beat,
Syncopating feet
All resonating.

In the dancing room,
Echoing the poise, the pose, the pause
Of pallid dancers in an empty place
With drifting translucent curtains,
Echoing the peace of dancers in a bleached, bare, beech-wood space
Of bright piano keys,
Of mirrors floor to ceiling height,
Of white light full of angles, reflections, refractions—

The music cascades, fades in a dying fall.
See! The player at the grand piano turns, quite spent.
Pale dancers in his head, his ears,
Have also turned; not one of them remains:
Just soundless music in his hands, his mind.
Somewhere, something (he cannot say) aches today.
Some kind of loss (o! strike white! strike black!) breaks grey in him.
Then something takes his breath away.

© Lizzie Ballagher

2015-07-17 13.05.412015-07-16 10.12.30

With thanks to the managers and staff at Dance Junction in Rochester, Kent, UK.



Still Dancing: The Cream of the Sixties’ Crop!

Of Zumba & Grannies Born in the Naughty Forties –
(Still Dancing, of Course)

Zumba, mambo, rumba, zumba!
The bhangra blares and bounces: Baby Boom-ba!

Zumba skirts swingle.
Gold pieces jingle.
Arms & legs tingle.
Bangles, bracelets all go ringle.

We reach & we skip,
Shake, sway & slip; shimmy, pull & dip;
Slide to the side, tap, high clap!
Single, single, double, travel—
Box & little hops,
Hunch, punch, lunge
Until we stop—
Then laugh till we drop.
Oh, we are the cream
Of the Sixties’ crop!

And afterwards I dream of dancing seas,
Of dancing barefoot on my mother’s knees.

© Lizzie Ballagher

2015-07-03 19.53.39

Shadow-Dancing on Day Four

Thanks again to Poetry Space’s Sue Sims for the prompt to write this series of poems.

Well, Now I Don’t Care

What Shoes I Wear


When I’m dancing with you

I no longer care

What shoes I wear;

Or who would mock & stare.

I might not even notice—so it goes—

If you trod on my toes.


In your arms, in love so lapped,

I’m weightless & breathless, so enrapt!

I’m yours forever, just as we meet—

You’ve swept me off my dancing feet.

Who cares what shoes I wear?

We are one dancer—a feeling so rare.


© Lizzie Ballagher

2015-07-06 15.41.25


Dancing on the Third Day

Here’s to a third day of dancing, this time English Morris dancing from the Cotswold and Border Morris traditions…dancing with bells on!

Dancing Shoes with Bells on

Tatters coats flying, white hankies aloft, all our feet are leaping.
We count the rhythm, sing the words
Of songs my cousins sang before the war,
Of songs my granny would have sung
(Had she not been quite so ladylike!)

And the great drum echoes the pulse of joy;
And Jim on the squeezebox pumps & grins;
And Bev oompahs away on the trombone.
Julie-Ann whoops wildly while Patrick saws away in perfect time…
“You’re on the fiddle again!” we cry, on cue.

Melodies make our hearts rise up.
My left foot falls, and so do theirs; my arms are raised,
And so are theirs, dipping & whirling, stepping & smiling.
The bells whisper & twinkle, ping, rattle & ring.
Red ribbons & purple ruffles fly.

© Lizzie Ballagher

Morris at Shepway 1985Morris at Leeds Castle 1986

Dancing Day Two

A sad poem today, but watch this space (and Poetry Space‘s Facebook page!) for brighter days to follow. This is the second of five poems featuring a lifetime of dancing days.

Primary School Dancer

“Kiss chase!” “Do that for a dare! Go on—you’ve got to!”
“I’ll tell on you! Tell on you. On you. You.”
I can’t keep up with all the threats, the shouts, the playground promises,
The whispered secrets by the crate of milk-bottle empties,
The pushing, jostling, joking round the dinner ladies.

Shy, I stand quite still unknotting my sister’s skipping rope.
Ball-bearings rattle in the handles, wink & spark their silver mockery.
Conspiracy! I, the one dancer, brush the tears away & count:
Skipping, singing the rhymes, the nonsense words that break no bones
And do not hurt like sticks & stones.

© Lizzie Ballagher

skipping rope grayscale

Five Days of Dancing

When Sue Sims of Poetry Space challenged me to write five poems in five days, I decided they should be about dancing…And here is the first:

No Dancing Shoes

Strong arms lift & hold me so my toes just touch
My mother’s knee.
I feel the rough stuff
Of her tweed skirt & giggle, wriggle, feet
Suddenly dancing.
My father whistles, capering, clapping beside us.
My little face breaks into smiles.
My mother laughs.

© Lizzie Ballagher