ladybird magnets on iron railings

The human race is very fond of enclosures and barriers. We put fences around open spaces and lock other people out.

padlocked gate
We shut ourselves up between walls and then complain that we are trapped.

red brick city tenement

Many years ago, in Madrid, I lived in a house with a big terracotta-tiled balcony that looked out over a street with a wide pavement and great tall elm trees.

It was a marvellous balcony, with a waist-high wall you could lean over to people watch. The canvas awning was broken, so when it was unrolled, it came straight down to the wall and created a secret room bathed in a gloomy green light where I used to sit reading among geraniums and tradescantia and where I sometimes slept on summer nights.

Lots of the buildings in the street had balconies, but they were mostly tiny wrought iron cages that hardly gave you room to do more than stand. The neighbours didn’t use them much, except to hang placards from the railings, proclaiming their political and ideological stance to the world.

Back in 2002, when the Prestige oil spill caused such havoc along the Galician coast, the placards told a clear story:

Madrid balconies

Across the road the balconies shout
in primary-coloured letters
three feet high:

Never again.
Big business interests
must not be allowed
to triumph.
We hold this earth in trust
for our descendents.

No to the war. A better world
is possible. A better way
exists. There are

We’re selling up and moving

I’ve been thinking about the balconies because of this rather splendid fire escape I saw last week in the snow.

red spiral fire escape in the snow

I, too, lived in a flat with a wrought iron balcony at one time:


How can I write,
caged in by walls,
smothered by cushions
and draped curtains?
Even my balcony is barred
like a prison cell.

Outside in the street
the trees grow tall
reaching towards the sky;
the swallows circle
high above the roofs:
I see the setting sun shine
through their tail feathers.

If thoughts could free me,
if words could carry me aloft,
I would follow them:



In my room
I have placed two mirrors
opposite each other.
Between four walls
I have caught
a fragment of infinity.


hot air balloon

Author: don't confuse the narrator

Exploring the boundary between writer and narrator through first person poetry, prose and opinion

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