Freedom: Brian Johnstone, Frank Dullughan, Marcelle Olivier for National Poetry Day

 

 

The Branded Hand

This Daguerreotype was taken Aug. 1845. It is a copy of Captain Jonathan Walker’s hand as branded by the U.S. Marshall of the Dist. of Florida for having helped 7 men to obtain ‘Life Liberty, and Happiness.’ SS Slave Saviour Northern Dist. SS Slave Stealer Southern Dist.         Inscription on reverse of photographic plate.

They printed this in Florida,
a slave state still in forty-five,
its marshal with the power
to mark a man for life. Yet,

he can’t have lived for long
till someone in New England
passed comment on his scars,
desired that he submit again

to steel that clamped the arm
lest movement spoil a plate
and new technology distort
the marks that he displayed,

his palm extended, opened
to their lens. As it had been
to coals, to branding irons,
the double S that found him,

in The South, slave stealer,
thief of someone’s property
he only saw as fellow men
in need. But, in The North,

a saviour offering the chance
for freedom crossing borders
meant to those who’d borne
the scars or more themselves

in multitudes, unrecorded,
never photographed, but
fixed, as is this single print,
in time, a record of its hand.

 

 

Brian Johnstone’s work has published six collections, most recently Dry Stone Work (Arc, 2014), and his work appears on The Poetry Archive website. His memoir Double Exposure was published by Saraband in February 2017. brianjohnstonepoet.co.uk

*First published in Liberty Tales (Arachne Press, 2016)

 

 

Daughter

When a bomb un-housed us,
I gave what money I had
to a man with a boat.

Her life will be large in Germany, he said.
My sister will keep to her side.
My travel must wait until there is more money.

This chance was my daughter-gift.
I sent her into the dark,
watched the bob of the boat become water.

She fell off the edge
of my heart. I go each day to the sea,
watch in vain for a note from her future.

Sometimes I go down at night
when the far shore is closer.
My neighbour’s child was taken by soldiers.

We live now on broken streets.
My daughter is becoming a woman.
At night, I can feel her

looking over her shoulder.
I went with the chance of a chance
when I sent her. There are no gifts left

that do not hold a hurt.
Daughter, do not look back.
I sent her to the dark of the far shore

from this place of death.
I gave her to the living world,
paid the ferryman.

 

 

Frank Dullaghan, widely published internationally, lives in Dubai. His 4th collection Lifting the Latch is due out from Cinnamon Press in May 2018.

 

 

phantasy

this miscellany is a herd of blushing
puku rusting out life

on the banks of a grim and sandy river.
embarrassed for running

when the time comes, still just wanting
to be near water.

 

 

marcelle olivier is poet and archaeologist living in Cambridge. She has published regularly in both her native South Africa and in the UK and you can read some of her translations of contemporary South African poetry in the edited collection in a burning sea (Protea, 2015).

 

 

Read More

Brian Johnstone

 

Pledge

What to do? You sign it,
as they all do, sign it in your childish hand,
descenders and ascenders imperfectly described,

a name, its capitals, its lower case
presented in the ink that’s drying even
as you gaze at it, drying as you think yourself

committed, pledge what future
you are able to conceive of to an absence,
disavowal (though you do not know these words)

and cannot see beyond the demon
conjured up before your eyes, you wish
in all your being to avoid. You will. You swear to it

right here. But cannot know
what liquor in a glass is waiting on a table,
what bottle, sweating in the heat of some back room,

has the word upon its label
that will draw you in, make a mockery
of this, its scrolls and curlicues, the fake solemnity

induced by those who should
know better, playing on a child’s mind,
its addiction only to a vow, a campaign, to a faith.

 

 

Brian Johnstone’s latest collection is Dry Stone Work (Arc, 2014). His work has appeared throughout Scotland and in the UK, America and Europe. He is a co-founder of StAnza: Scotland’s International Poetry Festival and was Festival Director from 2001-2010. His  poems appear on The Poetry Archive.  www.brianjohnstonepoet.co.uk

 

 

Note:  this poem first published in Antiphon

Read More

Vanessa Gebbie and Brian Johnstone . . . Remember! for National Poetry Day

 

 

 

Artillery

Unexplode the shell.

Let its shrapnel rehome,
let it fly six thousand yards
– line, no man’s land, line –
back into the hot muzzle
of the eighteen pounder.

Let the gunner
heft it out, cold,
swing, let go, rebuild the pile.
Reload the limbers,
assemble the gun team,
summon the gypsy horses,
Ally Sloper’s,
back to the base at Saigneville
Dannes, or Outreau.

To the tubs.
Let the cranes weigh down
the ship, the ship
sail coast to coast,
unburden itself
onto train, truck.

To the Filling Factory
at Woolwich, Chilwell or Banbury –

Listen Listen
to the Canary sing
while she unfills the shell,
her face bright
as the hair
that escapes her scarf,
or the flash
that accompanies
a sudden release
of energy
on the surface
of an adolescent star.

 

Vanessa Gebbie is a novelist, short story writer, poet, teacher and editor. www.vanessagebbie.com

 

 

Detail

They called a spade, a spade; a grave,
a grave; and duty unequivocal. His, to lead
the burial detail out to what the islanders
called camp. Body bags done, they laid them out
as if for night, each sleeping sack a winding sheet.

Too late, his flinch as the soil went in, the load
misaimed, the heft of his spade mistimed,
revealing the face of his mate below. Too late
to turn, too late to escape the stare that said,
I am not dead, even though he knew it was a lie.

They called a scare, a scare; a shock, a shock;
endurance indispensible. His, to yomp on
through the future, that face ever there: a friend
who never said to him, Don’t bury me, but says it
every waking hour in all the trenches of his brain.

   The Falklands Conflict, 1982

 

 

Brian Johnstone’s latest collection is Dry Stone Work (Arc, 2009). His work has appeared throughout Scotland and in the UK, America and Europe. He is a co-founder of StAnza: Scotland’s International Poetry Festival and was Festival Director from 2001-2010. His poems will appear on The Poetry Archive later in 2014.  www.brianjohnstonepoet.co.uk

Read More

Brian Johnstone

 

 

 

Surfin’ Safari for a Small Town Boy

The best pop is like a rush of lust – Alastair McKay

 

The deuce coupe threads the dunes, back of the sands:

her daddy’s car, but he will understand

 

that parties must be seized, she says, like days,

thrown as hand-made pots, agreed the way

 

they’ve signed their surfboards, waxed them down

like documents.  In this grey town

 

the sounds of doo-wop only surface from the drains

that overflow, the malice of late summer rains

 

determined in their pock-marked progress

over sands and shallows, all that acned skin, to mess

 

up every wrung out joy that they display,

gleaming in convertibles: the Wilsons, Jardine, Love, gay

 

in some forgotten sense.  The discs stack up,

the portable Dansette slaps platter on to platter, enough

 

to wind the provost up, his bike a solitary patrol

against the shameless pleasure of it all.

 

Awful in his cycle clips, flat cap, he gets around, his face

a sucked in breath of disapproval.  Go on, chase

 

the blues away before he gets on to your back.

The surf is up.  The wind is from the north.  But fuck,

 

all summer long this is as good as it will get.  The needle

hits the groove.  Love’s voice.  You paddle

 

out beyond the waves, youth tied on with a cord.

She watches you, God only knows, holds your reward

 

in supple limbs.  You feel the surge.  You sing it.  Sea

rips at your board.  She says: sing it one more time for me.

 

 

 

Brian Johnstone’s latest collection is The Book of Belongings (Arc, 2009). His poetry has appeared throughout Britain, in America and Europe. His poems have been translated into over 10 different languages. In 2009 Terra Incognita was published by L’Officina (Vicenza).

 

This poem has been commended for the National Poetry Competition and previously published in the Scottish magazine Chapman.

 

 

Read More

The Fifth Day of Christmas: Deborah Alma, Brian Johnstone

 

 

 

Playing Scrabble with my New Lover

 

 

So stupid, but I hadn’t remembered

that the last time I’d played

was in the old house,

until I found the two stubby pencils,

torn envelopes addressed to us both

and old scores, settled.

 

 

I poured the wine, apologised

for not being much fun,

while he spelt out L..O…V…E.

But his score was only seven

and I said,

you should have kept the V

for another time.

 

 

Deborah Alma was born in London and lives in Ludlow. She writes poetry, runs poetry workshops for children and dementia sufferers and is studying for an MA in Creative Writing at Keele University. She is also Emergency Poet in her 1960’s ambulance.

 

 

Xmas Present

 

The present, tense with pressures,
presents itself in gifts mapped
out as these: a sop to fashion,
present pop, tradition wrapped
in sentiment.  And I must choose
the necessary, the trivial, the apt.
Bowed down by bleak present-
iment, browned off and strapped
for cash, I’m feeling hassled,
pressured, feeling present-tense.

 

 

Brian Johnstone’s latest collection is The Book of Belongings (Arc, 2009). His poetry has appeared throughout Britain, in America and Europe. His poems have been translated into over 10 different languages. In 2009 Terra Incognita was published by L’Officina (Vicenza).

 

Read More

Brian Johnstone

The Whip Hand

 

Believing in the possibility of showtime

on the move,

that the sound of circus music blaring

 

from the speakers on the roof

means more

than silver in my pocket, pegs to hammer home,

 

I stake out another pitch and flatten grass:

for what?

The cheers, the hollow gasps, the silence

 

as I place my head inside each

lion’s mouth.

It’s not the teeth, the jaws I fear but seeing

 

deep into their eyes, each pupil blank

as every pitch

we quit, lifeless as the ground we pack so hard.

 

 

 

Brian Johnstone’s latest collection is The Book of Belongings (Arc, 2009). His work has appeared throughout Scotland and in the UK, America and Europe. He is a co-founder of StAnza: Scotland’s International Poetry Festival and was Festival Director from 2001-2010.

 

 

Read More

Brian Johnstone's 'One for the Road'

One for the Road

The headlights beam into the dark,
illuminating silence the vehicle moves into,

distant till it dopplers past, a fan of light
that breaks upon a sky so full of stars

it’s nothing but the swipe of us
intruding for a moment on the pitch of night

much as a match flares till it’s shaken out,
or as we try to make our mark

but stumble, spill its substance, light up
our surroundings only briefly, see

there’s nothing more than we’d steered into,
find we’re fumbling for the map.



*Brian Johnstone’s latest collection is The Book of Belongings (Arc, 2009). His work has appeared throughout Scotland and in the UK, America and Europe. He is a co-founder of StAnza: Scotland’s International Poetry Festival and was Festival Director from 2001-2010.



Read More