Oddly like a waiting-room at a train station
The same gruff fidgety anticipation
Yet an absence of baggage, an absence of destination.
Comical, almost, the way we middle-aged men
Take in the TV news, alien slaughters
Remote as cartoons, remote as going home again.
Absurdly thrilling, the opening of that door
The no-nonsense nurse, a glimpse of the corridor
Her files resemble old mail, one falls to the floor
A child's excitement, this human error
But no one, not one man, moves to help her
Pick up this sheaf of hope and, God knows, terror
Names are sweetly called, but not you, not yet
You're still a blank page and maybe they'll forget
Or lose you, better still; still, the train-clack fret
` Not yet, not yet, not yet.
I enter a new order of things
learn the language of blood tests, platelets,
reticulocytes, an Absolute Neutrophil Count,
lymphocetes; even the chance, however remote,
of Rocky mountain spotted fever -
somehow I am in that zone where blood will out
where all things are fatal until proven innocent.
How did I stumble here, when did the colossus
yield to sand, where was I when the Sphinx
moved a blasted paw under my feet
and I went face-down into a deceit of years?
When did the heart fail the rose, I didn't see that
coming; with my skull in the MRI scan's pulsing
sheath, what verses did I compose to its beat?
It's a shock, I tell you, to become like everyone else
to be human, frail as God, ordinary as grass
collapsing inward, drying up, unheroic, alarmed.
It will be like this, a fusion in bright light of flesh and steel
Blue smocks that never tie up properly, one's backside hanging
Out like a prank; the quick jabbing nicks and scrapes, days in limbo -
Hung up between knowing and not, it's no place to be
Try reading a book while they pass sentence somewhere
And then go for tea; try to imagine love in such a storm
Better to know, pedestrian opinions say; but it isn't -
You've seen your father strain between morphine sleep
And bone-scouring fire, it comes to you in technicolor, frame
By frame. Better, you say, to hop a 'plane, outrun the thing
Commit unfathomable sin, kill an old enemy. Go beyond ordinary
Law, go down in flames. But you'll do the everyday and pay
A bill here and there, sooner or later pretend nothing happened;
Keep up the scribble, keep shtum, wash the windows -
They may stamp your visa in the end, may yet wave you through.
About the author
Fred Johnston was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1951. In 1972 he received a Hennessy Literary Award for prose. In the mid-seventies he, along with Neil Jordan and Peter Sheridan, founded the Irish Writers' Co-operative, based in Dublin. In 1986 he founded Galway city's annual Cúirt literature festival and in 2002, the Western Writers' Centre in Galway, Ireland. A novelist, short story writer and dramatist as well as a poet, in the late nineties his play, 'No Earthly Pole,' on the life of Sir John Franklin, was staged at Galway's Punchbag Theatre as part of the Galway Arts Festival. In 2004 he was appointed writer in residence to the Princess Grace Irish Library in Monaco. His work has appeared in The Spectator, The Sunday Times, The Financial Times, Stand, The Irish Times, The London Magazine, The Edinburgh Review and elsewhere. He also writes and publishes poetry in French. He lives in Galway, Ireland.