Two poems by Brian Johnstone


Long gone, those derelict tenements,

a row of parlour walls stacked up
like sample cards

for someone’s granny’s wallpaper. Their slivers,
flapping in the wind,

goodbyes. Unlaid,
their fires all died, burned shadow

black into the grates that stamped each wall
with absence, empty

as some broken jug which stood once –
held the milk, some flowers, loose change

for the meter, warmed the baby’s bottle – whole,
on each one of these mantleshelves,

in living rooms complete
with hearthrugs, tables, easy chairs,

the neighbours in to borrow tea, just
floating there.
The Home Service

The washing swung its arms
from pulleys in the kitchen;

messages were shelved
in pantries, paid for on the tick;

and everything was one
and thruppence, two a penny,

twenty bob the pound.
A different land, the past,

and we, its wandered refugees,
can not explain for love

or money how it was for us.
The changes came like buses

are supposed to, all at once.
We hopped on, swung a bit

from straps, went all the way
until they caught us, ticketless,

our right to stay on board
the present hissing at us

like some foreign station
as you turn the wireless dial

to find you can’t receive
the signal like you used to when

the valves lit up, cat’s whiskers
shimmied to a different tune.
(both poems from The Book of Belongings)

Brian Johnstone is a Scottish poet whose work has appeared throughout Scotland and in the UK, America and various European countries. He has published four collections to date, his latest being The Book of Belongings (Arc, 2009).