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.

Pantry

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

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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

November: a time to reflect, a time to remember

Seven Candles

Light me a candle for sorrow:

For the one on a journey with no returning

And pennies on his eyes for the burying.

 

Light me a candle for tomorrow:

For the tug of longing & the loss of hope,

For the winds of war & the stuttering of prayer.

 

Light me a candle for blissful memories

In the darkest hours of night:

For sunlit colours & the laughter of friends.

 

Light me a candle for thankfulness:

For the holy moments of marrying,

For childbirth & the first faltering prayers of children.

 

Light me a candle for blessedness:

For bread & wine on a sacred table—

To stand & burn in beauty & in tenderness.

 

Light me a candle for gladness:

For a welcome at windows late in the evening,

For the hush & stillness of soft sleep.

 

Light me a candle for peace:

For the swansdown drift of dreams;

For the gift of Christ at Christmas,

And for His rising on Easter’s radiant morning.

Yes, light me a candle for the breath of day’s dawning.

 

The hiss of a flame, the flare of a spark

Will raise us soon against the dark.

 

© Lizzie Ballagher – words and image

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Nine Days – Day Nine

This evening sees the end of this nine-day blog. Writing the poem has been a good way of looking back with love and affection and looking ahead with hope and humour. If you’ve enjoyed following these nine days, please share the link or send me a comment.

My Mother’s Book of Hours: Novena

IX

But keep the beech-wood box itself for memory—

For our two grandmothers’ sakes, even for poetry’s sake—

And maybe take

One small bright thimble

For faith & hope & love (all three).

Go on—

It fits your finger—see?

 

© Lizzie Ballagher

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Nine Days – Day Seven

Unravelling muddles isn’t always good, and sometimes the memories are as sharp as the hat-pins of a previous blog. Equally, though, there are corners full of colour and joyful remembrance…

My Mother’s Book of Hours: Novena

VII

This box, I tell you—with all its forlorn jumble-jangle of bright stuff,

Its tangled pick-up-sticks of hooks & needles,

Of buckles & bangles & dancing-skirt spangles,

Of patchwork pieces—is all yours now.

No longer shall I calculate with frayed measuring tape

(It lies, for sure);

Or cut with rusting shears,

Or mend with reels or spools or bobbins

From this box.

No longer shall I read my mother’s Book of Hours—

This needlebook bibled in downy blue felt.

© Lizzie Ballagher

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Nine Days – Day Six

I had forgotten the sachet that I hem-stitched and embroidered for my mother as a child. It was a surprise when it surfaced among the clutter in the sewing box at the end of her life. I suppose she prized it, as I still prize the things my own children made.

My Mother’s Book of Hours: Novena

VI

From chalk & talk in Needlecraft, off-cuts of fabric rustle out:

Triumphantly you hold aloft the soft velvet cord

Of a coat I sewed you for school plays;

And the Irish linen of a sachet for white handkerchiefs—

What on earth is that? you ask.

It is a thing I sewed for Mum, I say, in tiny, pin-prick hem-stitching,

The hankies folded, redolent of peachy face-powder

And other relics of a bygone age,

A bygone stage.

© Lizzie Ballagher

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The dizzy taste of fresh blackcurrants

Just recently I’ve received the happy news that Poetry Space’s Summer Showcase will be featuring the poem shown below. Here, after a walk through currant fields just last summer, I recall the happy experience of growing up on a blackcurrant farm in Norfolk.

Blackcurrants

I hold the weight of light upon my palms:

Sprays and strands of wine-dark pearls strung

Perfectly from alchemy of rain & sun,

The pulse of summer’s hot & running blood

Shining, clotting on my fingers.

 

The heat of August sweetens, stains my hands

With fragrant orbs: purple, jewel-like (however small).

 

For now, I am summer’s queen again,

High on the handle-bar, riding aloft

Between rows & ripened rows of blackcurrants

On my father’s rotovator: around me the whiff

Of petrol & oil, the comfortable putt-putt

Of the churning motor as it chugs & chews

Through weeds & trampled ground.

 

With grubby hands I grab for currants,

Snatch at the light between the leaves.

 

Both escape my clutching fingers.

The dapple & ripple of green-starred growth

Flickers, skitters between them with nothing left

But the crimson smear of juice upon my skin:

The dazzling, fizzing, dizzy taste of fresh blackcurrants.

 

© Lizzie Ballagher

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Dandelion Clocks

IMG_5921    Who hasn’t grimaced as the heads of dandelions rear up out of an otherwise healthy garden? There is, however, a part of me that thinks that dandelions have as much right to life as any other flower in the garden, and that it is completely arbitrary to declare one plant a weed while another appears in sumptuous splendour at the Chelsea Flower Show…as if, somehow, a nasty system of discrimination extends even to plant life.

And who, as children, didn’t love watching the seeds be carried away on the wind and marvel at their lightness of being?

Dandelion Clocks

After rain, blurred moon bubbles rise

In the green space of late spring grass.

 

Minutes from the rounded clock-face

Of dandelion hours,

 

Those bubbles burst

In a supernova of wind-strewn stars

 

Floating free on far-off fields,

Seeding next year’s leonine suns

 

In interstellar showers…

After rain.

 

© Lizzie Ballagher

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Those who have walked this way before us

On Old Winchester Hill

High on Old Winchester Hill, I wonder:

Did Victorian archaeologists miss the point

With their methodical measuring tapes,

Their neat white note-cards & their tapping trowels;

Their careful record books & counted shards

Of flint & iron & pottery?

 

The hill is healed now of all diggings: hollows & barrows

Softened by falling rain, by grass & honeyed clover,

By golden gorse & trefoil; by thistledown & scabious;

By poppies’ red splash & purple coils of rampant vetch.

Now rock-hard ramparts, humps & clumps of earth are blurred:

Jumbled by time & tempest, roots & rabbits.

 

What’s left to mark the memory of ancient ancestors

And long-lost clans?—those who lived before the builders of Stonehenge,

Before Romans drove their roads in dead straight lines & marched to ruin,

Before Arthur cantered out with wandering knights

Or Alfred was enthroned in royal halls at Winchester—

What’s left to mark their memory?

 

Only this: a gentle wooden seat to rest upon with you,

To stare back down & through the ages;

And this: our love shall last, not overlords.

We carry seeds of sweetness in our plantings

As surely as feathered corn-cockles flare

Open for another summer & another—

 

As surely as the children born to us

Will walk upon this hilltop once:

Their eyes fixed on the azure glory of the sky,

Their feet sunk deep in kingly blue of cornflowers

And golden hoards of seed-heads where today we go

In tracks of those who settled here six thousand years ago.

 

© Lizzie Ballagher

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Landscape’s Memory

Recently it’s struck me that human beings and animals aren’t the only ones with a memory. If there can be such a thing as inorganic memories, then surely some landscapes are proof that there’s a kind of memory in stone, shale, sand, and even soil… though perhaps not! Still, at least the scientists, seismologists and climatologists who dig into the earth’s crust to make sense of the past can read a marvellous sort of archive that serves a similar function. I find it consoling to think that when we’re all, as the song says, “dust in the wind”, there will remain parts of us in the composition of the earth that now we walk on.

Memory  

Somewhere in the hemispheres’ tight folds,
In the cavernous enormity of inner space:
Certainty, bedrock.

Above it, a warm inland sea,
Uncharted reefs, shoals shifting in unseen currents stoked
By the blazing core;
And over these again, the stratigraphic record
Of shale & soil. And of sacred soul—
Lost foot- and fingerprints, frond and feather-prints,
Fossils ossified, lithified in the lowest ledge, all hidden
Under drifting dunes, dissolving marl; the scoured sandstone
Of inner deserts, abandoned coastal plains;
All hidden under mountain ranges worn
To dusty stubs by time & tide & tempest.

A heave of memory
And the earth churns up, turns over:
Lifts, tilts, dips, jack-knifes, splits, is cloven
Until my spirit quakes.
But springs, lagoons soak through;
The subterranean groundwaters of joy
Bubble out, well up
Carving channels & runnels for light,
For comprehension of the unfathomable
Chaotic & uninhabitable world
Of what is past.

Here the level ribbon of time
Is rinsed & crimped, furled & unfurled,
Pulsed, pushed, hurled
As life’s pyroclastic flow sheds out,
Spreads out another layer
And another & another.
All strands & faults are weighed
Down, pressed down: overflowing
Far beyond a full measure
Where vaults & galleries echoed once
With emptiness.

Still, deep below the landscape long grassed over,
Somewhere in the hemispheres’ tight folds:
Steadfast bedrock.

© Lizzie Ballagher

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