Fred Johnston – Empty Houses

Fred Johnston LEP&W Sept-Oct V2 2022

Download PDF Here Live Encounters Poetry & Writing Volume Two Sept-October 2022. 

Empty Houses, poems by Fred Johnston

Empty Houses

Like blind men halted at the edge of a footpath
The light nailed shut at window-height.

Who murmurs from room to room in such profound des-
Olation? The ghosts are vacuumed out.

Let’s hear it for the wide-boys who carry the mark of the
Wrecking-ball on their forehead. Who have plans


This is the weather when dogs die in locked cars
Tarmac melts like ice-cream, beered-up swimmers drown
When doors are left open to the insect chitter of radios:
Grandmothers wear shorts discreetly in their walled gardens
Feeble flowers die off and refugees float cruciform face-down
Across the pixelated pages of red-top newspapers

There are temperature warnings and warnings of exposure
To sunlight. We are told what winds deliver the High pressure
And how long we might reasonably expect it to stay:
Warned of cancers hibernating in our lucent Northern skin
Too much wine drunk in the sun brings migraine-level pain
This is what it must be like in Syria, Saudi, or Gaza

Tabloid photographers aim for money-shots of girls in bikinis
Laid out like dead dolls in public parks. Or Royals in see-through
Skirts. Hotter here today than in Riyadh. Hotter than Fuengirola
The elderly are particularly vulnerable to this kind of weather
And very young children left in shut cars. Sun-block sales are up.
Very cold drinks can be dangerous. Stay cool.

Fiesta At The Spanish Arch

Our age can’t survive their youth for long
Safer back in the car, you tell me
And I can’t say you’re entirely wrong

And from the lowered windows we
Watch the fire-eaters and the drummers
Everyone glowing in the dark, the epitome

Of not giving a damn. Cans of beer
And the too-long legs of girls in shorts
No need for music, it’s all rhythm here

Patchouli nights – do you remember?
Say you remember, say you identify
Say you’d toke one just to get back there

Say something translated from the heart
It doesn’t matter to me what it is
I just want to hear you pull the words apart

Coloured stars, explosions in the air
Constellations rearranging themselves
Someone’s dog howling somewhere –

How can we just sit here while they dance
Two perverts in the dark, or two cops
We’re invisible to them, even if they glance

Our way, which they won’t. We’re not real
Anymore, we’ve passed real, insubstantial,
Things of the air. How do you like them apples?

Mummified Remains Of Woman Found In Armchair

Sound is luminous
And its absence is what we mean by dark

I sat here while the dust
Accumulated on the desk I had lived by

The book fell
From my fingers, the cigarette blinked shut

There was nothing left
To hear. So I no longer listened.

Quick I dry out and shape
A pose, quick I am a strange small hyphen

Modest to the last
Presentable, so who comes will say

She dressed so well –
Scraffing their way through my letters

And bills, they’ll smell
Ordinary under-attended tasks, a private

Dessication, the dryness
Of me, though they’ll say I made them laugh

And even now I have a sort
Of smile, though it could do with fattening –

O where were any of you
While I sat here to read myself dead?

© Fred Johnston

Born in Belfast in 1951, Fred Johnston has published nine collections of poetry, his most recent is ‘Rogue States,’ (Salmon Poetry 2019.) Co-founded the Irish Writers’ Co-operative in the ‘Seventies with Neil Jordan and Peter Sheridan and the annual CUIRT literature festival in Galway in 1986. In 2004, he was appointed writer-in-residence to the Princess Grace Irish Library at Monaco. He has written and published poetry in French and received a Prix de l’Ambassade in 2002. Two collections of short stories have been published, one in French, and three novels. Recent poetry has appeared in The Guardian, The Spectator, The New Statesman, The Irish Times, STAND, The Financial Times among other publications. He lives in Galway, Ireland.

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