One Poem by Lizzie Ballagher

Written in response to this month’s Special Challenge.


You ask me how I came to be up here.
Insist you’ll keep me talking.
But I know your tricks—so stop your stalking!

You ask me would I tell you the time?—all casually,
as if we were in the lobby twenty floors below.
You don’t fool me, though, ’cos I can see your own watch
winking under the cuffs of that white coat. Hey, I don’t need
to recite my name, the time, or any tearful tales. Don’t have a fit!
Just leave me on this parapet.

And how did I get here? you ask, polite as a politician
who glues his smile on, white teeth bared.
Madmen! I shall not be snared.

You’re the crazed ones—don’t you think?—
tramping out in gloomy twilight
to find a beige man in beige turn-ups
(my #64301 sewn on the label)
who’s just done a soft-shoe-shuffle out
the back door of the nuthouse
while you minders sitting at the table
were smoking, playing cards.
You think you understand me, you—
but you ain’t gotta clue!

For fifty years I’ve been a lepidopterist,
though now the only way I get to see
a butterfly aloft in dancing air
is through triple-paned security glass.
I had to make a run for it. Or fly.
I flew, you know. Or fled—
however you want to mince the words
to pretend we none of us know
what’s really going down here,
what’s gonna go, and who’ll be dead.

Listen. I am the butterfly, the sane one, who loves clear air:
the only one of us who’ll fly free from here;
while you’re the one enchained to earth, who lives in fear.

At this vertiginous height upon the parapet
there’s no one here to pin me in a cabinet
or put me in a cage and watch me crash my wings on glassy walls.
So before you throw your foolish safety nets
to scoop me from the rooftop, hear this:
you can’t catch me; won’t catch me.
Don’t you haul me from the ledge.
You’re the one on the edge, can you not see?
I am the butterfly—from now until forever             flying free.

A published novelist from 1984-1996 in the US, the UK, the Netherlands and Sweden (pen-name Elizabeth Gibson), Lizzie Ballagher now writes poetry rather than fiction. Her work was featured at the 2017 Houston, TX, Poetry Festival and also appears intermittently in South-East Walker Magazine and on Poetry Space.

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