Three Poems by Lizzie Ballagher

Celtic Knot Found in Translation

Seed to stem to leaf
Root to tree to fruit
Flower to weed to grief
Wood to coal to soot.

Soot to hearth to home
Heart to hands to knees
Moors to hills to roam
Shells to sand to seas.

Seas to heave to sky
Boats to breeze to run
Sails to curve to fly
Rays to flame to sun.

Sun to rise to light
Stars to blink to fire
Moon to wane to night
Dusk to church to choir.

Choir to song to words
Cloth to weave to wear
Door to woods to birds
Help to peace to dare.

Dare to dream to dawn
Eyes to close to sleep
Hope to dance to morn
Life to live to keep.

Keep to path to farm
Sheep to fold to fleece
Wool to wash to warm
Joy to tears to cease.

Cease to stand to cold
Bell to tower to ring
Arms to reach to hold
Love to bed to sing.

Sing to sow to grain
Shoes to walk to feet
Soil to plough to rain
Plant to sprout to wheat.

Wheat to bread to bake
Fields to grow to feed
Time to clocks to take
Corn to gold to seed.

Seed to stem to leaf:
One knot shall salve all grief.

Matisse at the MFA

“In the room the women come and go Talking of Michelangelo.” ~ T S Eliot, The Lovesong of J Alfred Prufrock He painted in a clutter of blowsy peonies— Old work askew on the mantelpiece, Tubes of carmine & aquamarine left trailing, Rotund chocolate-pots all silver & showy Beside stone-eyed death masks, Next to vermilion tapestries waiting, Rolled, for attention: All the props of his trade. Boston art lovers go up & down, Do him homage with flashless camera phones, Move like flamingos in their salty feeding ground, Heads turned one way, Stepping in tune, in time to the beat Of the colour waves; then turning Again in a shimmering mirage To look the other way: Again & again to drink the heat Of burnt sienna & crimson lake, As if to be fed somehow, As if to take—what?—new feathers, new skin. And I, although I do not understand This painter—just liking & looking— I too gather around me the muddles & miracles Of light & the moments & makings Not of paintings but of poems. Then sit, thirsty to write what I see, What I drink in, What I’ve scooped in the neb of my hand.

The Rhyme the Blackbird Sang

After Andrea Kowch’s painting of blackbirds, crows and starlings in the kitchen

The king’s long left his counting house
with nothing in the treasury to number
but bloody blackbird pies.

The queen’s cut quite adrift: eats
bread & honey, seeking comfort
in jars void of all but wasps’ hollow corpses.

Their maids have quit the garden
since royal clothes have gone to rags—
so none to hang—not clothes! not thieves!

My brother blackbird stole the pegs
from off the palace line; but my beak—
mine—is delving in the sweetest fruit.

No need to nip the noses
of those kitchen maids with floury hands,
or laundry maids with sallow cheeks:

See me pay for pies,
for honeyed berries,
with two of my finest feathers.

Now with scratchy claws I cling,
planting my feet in fatty dough—
the bliss! I whistle, the bliss!

Too bad! so sad!—
for my four-&-twenty sisters
baked in those plump pies.

These wild-eyed women shan’t catch me
(bright of eye, sleek of wing & sharp of beak), so
I shall have revenge:

Fly in & out of open sashes,
dine on every luscious berry,
build a nest in their crazy hair.

Never shall my hatchlings hunger—
early & late my song shall be
of blue- & black- & bilberry.


“Celtic Knot Found in Translation” was given special mention by judge Sally Spedding in the 2018 Welsh International English Language Poetry Competition.

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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