Fred Johnston is an Irish poet, novelist, literary critic and musician. He is the founder and current director of the Western Writers’ Centre in Galway. He co-founded the Irish Writers’ Co-operative in 1974, and founded Galway’s annual Cúirt International Festival of Literature in 1986. His Recent work has appeared in The Spectator, The New Statesman, STAND, and on RTE’s ‘Arena.’ His most recent collection is ‘Alligator Days’ (Revival Press) and he is working on a translation of Béroul’s prose edition of ‘Tristan et Iseut.’
THE ENTERPRISE *
Meshed by Victorian girders we crouched like numbered refugees
At a border. Then we were through, boarding the train for Dublin,
Winter and summer we undertook the journey under immeasurable skies
Hotly blue or grey as shroud-cloth, out of Belfast and Southward.
A neat Byzantine church purred on its hill outside Newry,
The bridge-irons over the Boyne clicked by like shutters,
Then soon the sea in its wrap of empty sand, and the fantasy
Acres of TV aerials over the rooftops of Dublin, the smell of
Coal-smoke, the exhausted gasp as the train shivered and stopped.
This was the anthem to my growing, a skinny child talking to himself.
The infant discourse turned to bombs and shunting delays, soldiers
Permitting us to breath silent country-station air while the lines
Were scoured for the promised bomb that never came. Now I was
At the bar, drinking with the rest until the beer ran out, easing back
The terror like a scalp from a damaged skull, and the food disappeared
And small children cried and at some tables card games passed time.
The two-hour trip took seven and we scurried in to Dublin in the dark
Full of invented stories and exaggerated swagger: those were bad
Days stained with country murder and back-street butchery. No coal-thick
Smoke under the station roof. The train had grown up into diesel,
Flat-faced, it nosed against the buffers and relaxed. The great
Undertaking, the gift of moving from one world to the next, and the
Nameplate unchanged and oddly comforting, if iron and steel and
Paint can offer comfort or be familiar, it was something approaching it.
My exotic express pierced borders as in a novel by Graham Green or Agatha Christie, a ‘Thirties tremble in the carriages, loves abandoned or
Captured in spite of everything, because of everything. as when I held
Your reluctant hand once there in a crowded carriage and nothing
Came of it, the two of us in motion like a stone skipped on water,
The Enterprise at light-speed over the rails, its metronomic indifference.
© FRED JOHNSTON
* (The Enterprise was the name of the express train that ran between Dublin and Belfast)