Six poems by Fred Johnston

 Fred Johnston was born in Belfast Northern Ireland,.educated there and Toronto, Canada, lived for a time in Spain and Africa and after that in Dublin. Currently he lives in Galway. He is author of a collection of stories from Parthian (Wales) 2011; and ‘Orangeman’, a collection of stories in French, from Terre de Brume (France) 2010. Johnston worked as a fulltime journalist, writer and sub-editor for some years for Irish Press, This Week, Woman’s Choice and Belfast Telegraph (sub-ed.). He edited Westword Magazine, and for a time, and two literary pages in The Galway Advertiser. He received Hennessy Literary Award for prose in 1972, and Sunday Independent Short Story and Poem of the Month awards. He co-founded, The Irish Writers’ Co-operative in the mid-Seventies. Johnston is author of four novels, eight collections of poetry. He was Writer-in- Residence to the Princess Grace Irish Library at Monaco, 2004.he wrote and broadcast for RTE Radio 1 a four-part series on the literary history of the West of Ireland. He writes on occasion for An Irishman’s Diary, in The Irish Times. Broadcast travel pieces for RTE Radio’s Sunday Miscellany and ‘The Quiet Corner,’for Lyric FM Radio (Ireland), and teaches Creative Writing at NUIG (Adult Education). Fred Johnston is Founder of the Western Writers’ Centre – Ionad Scríbhneoiri Chaitlín Maude – based in Galway (



Old lovers often want to know
where did the good of old love go
in which space beneath the heart
did the death of old love start
could it have been solved or cured
with incantation or resolving word;
but we who live in the age of treason
are fools to look to love for reason
there is no button we can press
that offers the broken dead redress
so how can something mad as love
as mad as soldiers on the move
conform to potions, ritual, prayer
when so much blood hangs in the air?



Mon mari m’ordonne d’arroser toutes les fleurs mortes,
dans notre jardin brumeux des pissenlits, des marguerites se pelotonnent:
j’écrase les pommes sauvages, et je marche à quatre pattes
entre le berceau de sa luxure gothique, pierreuse,
et le feu glacial de mon désir. Je suis un coing sacré, méprisé. Il me mange.



My husband instructs me to water all the dead flowers,
in our misty garden of dandelions, the marguerites curl up:
I crush the crab apples, and I walk on all fours
between the cradle of its Gothic, rocky lust,
and the icy fire of my desire. I am a sacred, scorned quince. He eats me.


All ends up in noise –
traffic on the unfinished highway
crazy like the too-long married
tired of the stop and go
new lovers on mobile ‘phones
cruising the gaps in conversation
everything is noise and nothing is.
Office desks scrape over and over
like mechanisms unevenly set
wrist-watch hands click
out of the ear’s sight
there’s a great unfinished thing
hanging in the air
making its own grunt and clamour –
Everything is noise, nothing is:
there’s nothing to hear
lovers cry out and fall silent
silence is the sought-for
end of it all, end of the line
it’s the silence that makes the loudest
wail, a welter of exasperation
We couldn’t have come to a worse
blood running neither hot nor cold
listening for the heart to stop
finish itself, fall silent
the noise of its descent like a bird
dropping out of the sky, soundless.



Means nothing at all to the unseeing
a feather on an eyelid, little else
But all light is compromise
tinctures of light and heavy
Granules of grey, lumens and footcandles:
the calculus of observance –
So what opens the dark is a matter
of disputation, a small thing
Of itself made omnipotent by the eye’s
rage to absorb everything
A corneal thirst for definition –
but that’s a different thing entirely.



It’s not the falling down we fear
but the not getting up
some riot in the inner ear
a quiet convulsion at the periphery
of all that’s certain
the violence of uncertainty
days waiting for the world
to right itself
for meaning to get its meaning back
red panic, as when bad news
drops through a letter-box
or a gun goes off, or a lover leaves
the urge to stay blind in a dark room
resist the light
deprive whatever is coming of light
to find you by; lie on the floor
while footsteps thud
on the bloodied grass, in the mud.


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