Fred Johnston was born in Belfast, Ireland, in 1951. He founded Galway City's annual
literature festival, Ceirt, in 1986 and more recently, the writers' center there. Eight
collections of poems, three novels and a collection of stories have been published. He
has won various awards, and now edits the Cork Literary Review in Ireland. Involved
with the folk music scene since he was a teenager, he has brought out three albums,
two with the group 'Parsons Hat' and one of his own, 'Get You.'
A cheese sandwich is very forgiving
'To look within requires self-discipline, and this they lacked.'
Jean Cocteau: Les Enfants Terribles
He found a seat at a round white table with a view
Of the river, and here he sat over a coffee and a cheese
Sandwich and remembered that he was a man.
To sit facing a Board meeting was always to have laid
Out before him the dreadfulness of his position -
Big women put him in his place, shy men nodded.
Rebuked for paying for his own postage stamps,
His plans for the future of the company went
Unheard. A set of rules governing postage stamps
Was drawn up. He pushed forward (ever so delicately)
A proposal which, if adopted, would, he believed
Increase end-of-quarter profits by at least five percent.
But he was utterly wrong, they told him, frowning,
To go out and post letters using his own money.
It upset, irredeemably, the petty-cash systems in place.
Two Board members stood up, they'd other meetings.
The rest took his proposals away to be read
Or, at least as likely, shredded. An employee who could
Not appreciate the need to pay for stamps from
Petty cash, instead of buying them himself,
Had clearly nothing to say on the future of the company.
But here the sandwich was mushy and gooey
And the coffee revived him. He saw
How lovely the young girls were, how high the sun.
He heard laughter and the gossip in the salted air
Of the river over the hidden, terrible stones.
He heard himself at rest, a soft cheesy chewing.
the weathergirl predicted a change,
it arrived with wind rising
a cough in the hedge, a click in the window
that wasn't there yesterday or the day before:
like the small chest pain that grows
and swells and smothers
these are the symptoms of bad weather
moving in, growing, pushing, tightening
the bright channels we ran in for weeks -
already you are shy, blood to your cheeks,
the window disfigured by sly streaks
something is happening, happening again -
lock the door.
There were, I remember clearly, cockroaches
Clicking on the tiles of the Gents lavatory,
The sea-front was rabid with fevers of longing
For a season that would neither begin nor end;
Wounded posters scuffed along the pavements,
Odours of frying, a brisk and sad breeze,
I could imagine a soul dying under rain,
A crunching of gravel, a movie in black and white
With long shots of the sea and utter silence...
Still, there was laughter under the canopies
And defeated roofs of beach cafes,
And so many shops sold home-made ice cream,
There was a terrifying Englishness lolloping
In the lobbies of incurious hotels,
A bikers' bar sprouted like a black, loud
Flower out of the eternities between one palm tree
And another; the sky was ridiculously blue
And some child had forgotten to scrub away
The grey stain of a yacht blotting the horizon:
In the Old Town, buildings held the dainty holes
Of Allied bombs and bullets still, as if that war
Was coming back, ebbing and flowing in its silver
Blinding tides. But nothing could make us linger,
Not in that unforgiving Sunday absence that
Lacked a single bell. Others find it beautiful, and remain.
In a mediaeval hour
'Quand les fenetres se souviennent...'
- Marie Desmaretz: (untitled)
Usually between two o'clock and three,
When the tourists who gawp in packs are gone
Back to clinical hotel rooms to sleep
Off a too-heavy-for-this-weather lunch wiped
Down with, naturally, litres of beer,
There was a girl in a lazy shop in a side-street
Behind a rough shrubbery of postcards,
Keyrings, replica swords, a rockery of crockery,
The mediaevalness of the hour enhancing,
Arguably, the whole matter of her being there,
Who would appear to catch your eye,
A good-looking woman by any standard,
And there was in her quick-as-a-wink glance
A question -- in Provencal? Monegasque? Ligurian? --
Straight as an arrow to the heart of your comfort:
What would it take for you and I to tumble
In my upstairs bed for an afternoon, and who's to tell?
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