Fred Johnston – Amazonia

Johnston LE P&W 2 Nov-Dec 2023

Download PDF Here
14th Anniversary Edition, Live Encounters Poetry & Writing Volume Two Nov-Dec 2023.

Amazonia, poems by Fred Johnston.


“I love to travel, but hate to arrive.”
– Hernan Cortes

And so we left the ravelling music and the rest behind
Too many of us in a car dreaming of a scrapyard
Mountain dark took us whole, we were inclined
To sleep, a single headlight, gear-change muscle-hard
The grind of not engaging jigging up through bone
A window wouldn’t close, the radio a mess of static
A breath of tired metal, stale breath on an old ‘phone
Came up through the floor with the burn of oil, a panic
To our throats when the black sudden drop
Of corkscrew road left-hooked us aware
We’d forgotten how high hours before we’d driven up
We stopped, got out, dumb as cattle, into bone-dry air
As if for the first time seeing the city lit up like a flare
Or by some Spielbergian magic there were primitive fires
Down in the drunk mind’s Amazon, held on thin wires
Of sinew or human hair; we’d found it without a map
(Perhaps over the rear-view mirror swung a single star)
No peacock caballero ever stood here where
The living dark flies, its bright cluster-bombs unwrap-
Ping from the skin of a moonless night, this habitation, home
A place we’d just discovered, an illuminated catacomb
At least a mesh of gates, we’d been gone a dozen years –
And each fire rises on its line, shivers, steadies, disappears.

Grave ritual

It’s good to visit a village cemetery
It is, after all, the future –

Something reassuring in the splash of bought flowers
The sad flag-wave of memorial cards and prayers

A sense of adventure –

For now you’re a tourist here
Fixing on the grey windows

The headstones are, streaked black with old rain
Even as they flicker by your lack of interest like a train

Through a station where no one comes or goes

You hear the clack and rattle
Of a villageful of names, dates

As dumb to you as hieroglyphs, cuneiform or ogham
Yet you kneel to decipher what lives lie below them

A ritual of sorts, a backhand paying of respects.

Dog star

One New Year’s Eve
We who are bachelors had nothing to do
The night was glary, starstruck and cold
And we drove hard into the frozen boglands
To buy poitín as a New Year’s gift –

We had tea in a house
Where the doors were never locked and outside
It was easier to travel by row-boat than car
Without knowing it we were on islands
And someone sang an old song

The road back was black
And the bog and hills black-on-black
Painted by a blind painter in a dark room
Up on a hill a sharp prick of light
Like a pinhole through the canvass

A house of ingenious smallness
Stone to the roof, corrugated sheets up there
And a single candle lit on a poor table
A man in his suit in his whole length
On the neat bed, another man watching

From out of a thick stillness
Not lonely but bone-strong in a night watch
Cut from the dark beyond candlereach
Under the monstrous constellations
The howl of the Dog Star.

© Fred Johnston

Fred Johnston was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1951. Working as a journalist for some years, he was a poetry reviewer with Books Ireland and The Irish Times, among other publications: he also reviewed for The Sunday Times and Poetry Ireland Review. His work, both prose and poetry, has appeared in The New Statesman, The Guardian, Stand, The Spectator, Iron, Orbis, The Irish Times, The London Magazine, The Dalhousie Review, The Sewanee Review, Southwards, The Moth, The Stinging Fly. Founder of CUIRT international literature festival (Galway,) his most recent poetry collection is ‘Rogue States’ (Salmon Poetry, 2019.) He is also a novelist and short story writer. He lives in Galway in the West of Ireland.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.