2 Poems by Caroline Johnstone


Perhaps I’ll say a prayer in honour

of your greatness, light a candle

at the altar of your mythology.

Was it Easy Virtue for you,

The Man Who Knew Too Much,

saw everything through a Rear Window?

Rich and Strange, you were Notorious

as the master of suspense in the 39 steps

of Waltzes from Vienna.

Your focus was The pleasure garden,

An Elastic Affair that left us Spellbound,

peeking through a Torn Curtain

but did you Always Tell Your Wife

how sooner or later you’d Sabotage

the Young and Innocent

humiliate your female leads, make them

suffer on screen for their blonde

icy remoteness. Dreaming, screaming,

you taught them red carpet lessons

those naughty haughty pawns to paw

over, observe with a lady-killer’s eye.

Was there any Shadow of a Doubt 

that you were a Psycho. Torture the women, 

said Sardou. I’ve a suspicion you said MeToo.


It was all so inconvenient; 

my To-Do lists were long

and then the world 

shuddered to a halt

Central Station silenced, 

emptied of all comings and goings

in a ghost town haunted 

by a longing for normal life.

Those early days 

I schlepped through slow-moving icebergs

shifting sociological sands,

narrowly avoided 

the sharp teeth worry 

of black dogs circling.

Outside my window

the cars lined up like soldiers,

clocks turned in a slow journey 

round news bulletins and what’s-for-dinner,

sleep was a solace of forgetting –

wakening (if I slept) 

was a shock of remembering 

everything had changed,

and home was more than a safe haven.

And then – yes! I was grateful 

for a still-warm bed, how to sleep

without dark panics of unending nights. 

And how I loved the way I could

gradually ease myself into days 

of cornflower blue skies after winter

had piled on storm after storm.

Now it’s news when a bike goes past my window

or a man walking his dog whistles softly,

when a train empty of all but essential workers 

hums quietly on its way, and somewhere

someone is cutting the grass 

under rouge-red cherry blossom 

and the just-hatched tenderness of oak leaves.

I inhale the comfort of old books

the sweet kisses in warm banana bread

the tang of a lemon loaf – for there is death 

and the fear of death, the anguish 

of loss and long recovery – but yes, 

there are also births and centenarians 

looking forward to their next stage in life

and a three-year-old who laughs

in their belief in unicorns and dinosaurs.

And how wonderful it is that it took a crisis 

to meet my neighbours

find most of them are neighbourly

as we lean out of windows 

in an exhilaration 

of hallelujahs for key workers.

And when I ventured outside

I saw smoke signals of business- as-usual

and a rare plane overhead shouted that 

there is still a world to explore. We make a game 

of where we had planned to travel – 

eat chunks of feta as a celebration of Greece

lather butter on a French baguette

drink sangria. Rome is postponed but we are alive 

and this is the 8th wonder of the world.

I find it amazing that 

a solitary deer could ever prance 

down the silence of Sauchiehall Street,

that there is still sea glass to discover 

where the sea nibbles sand 

to get its attention,

boats curl on their side 

at low tide in the hope 

of a resurrection of high tides and skippers

and the river chuckles onwards; 

it has much to say for itself.

And, oh, the insistence of snowdrops 

as they push towards the light,

birds in flash mobs that sing arias 

nothing can drown out, the cat who 

mindfully washes himself 

with his rough pink tongue,

stretches in the consolation of sunshine.

There are seasons, ebb and flow,

an unhurried moon that waxes and wanes 

as it guards those whose lungs

keep fighting, but what remains 

are rainbows and a whole wide world 

that breathes easier.

I have decluttered the weight 

that things can place on the heart, 

the too-tight clothing of that normal life

and from the wreckage salvage

the freedom to rise above small things 

and the grace that mingles with the space

where hope rises and rises

like bubbles in champagne 

the relentlessness of sunsets that sashay 

in magenta stilettos and pink gins,

the heartsease of dawns.

About the contributor

Caroline Johnstone is a non-fiction author and poet published in the UK, Ireland, and the US. Originally from Northern Ireland, she now lives by the sea in Scotland. In 2019 she won the Waterways Storymaking Festival Award, Imprint Writing Award, and the Beyond Borders Round III competition. She was also long-listed for Over The Edge New Writer of the Year.

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