Fred Johnston – Default

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.’


DEFAULT

“Je veux fidèlement te faire le récit; . . .”

– Alfred de Musset: Lettre a Lamartine

I

Cut in stone like a monument to itself, the farmhouse
The half-door, stepped out of its time, a cyclops window
The scratchy, scummy thatch the colour of old blood on wood
The damned unsettling silence of the place, its broody ruin –
Yet it lodged him through deep winters, dry-mouthed
Junes and Julys when the smell of sheep-shit fly-mauled
Flaccid air, and round the grossly neglected rooms,
The stale grease tang of old fry-ups that went wrong and
A toilet that no longer functioned, that refused to be cleared.

II

A tweed jacket oracle in the nicotine dark, smoke-wrapped,
Burning cigarette on cigarette like offerings to a diminished god,
Weekend newspapers opened to culture pages, reviews, opinions
And the same, though fewer, from the columns of politics
And social cant; a radio timid as an alarmed rat squeaking
Out of sight behind books, the coffee-table type (on Art) and
The brick-thick sort, heavy as stones, on Irish politics and
The Founding of the State, topics upon which he ladled cynicism
Like cold soup; a civil servant’s mind stirred it with contempt.

III

Concerning Yeats he was generous, saw in his poetry the
Sorry island’s redemption, in his plays the appropriation
Of a wriggling peasant soul; transmuted, it might nourish
Some sense into the half-light crappery of a slavering shop-
Keeper class, the small pub owners who were cute like foxes;
The Greasy Till Mob, he’d pronounce, Cattle-shit still on their
Oxford brogues. I’ve met them. And he had, from his throne
Overlooking a State body, pandered to them, taken their un-
Lovely pension. We’d argue for hours, drink awful tea, smoke.

IV

Beyond his single window this life-single city man could see
Farmers’ landscapes, field, stone walls, hideous moons and
Atrocious flooding weather; bed-ridden at the end (that ache
Was no strained muscle,) he threw offence at everyone, into
Every corner of the book-sad, thought-weary room where
The new-bought TV downed tools, out in sympathy with
His legs; he died, unspoken to, in a hot hospital bed miles later
Unvisited, for the most part, cosseted in the kind of coma we
All might welcome; no argument, no anger, dignity by default.


© FRED JOHNSTON

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