4 Poems by Brian Johnstone


 I have seized the light. I have arrested its flight.
Louis Daguerre, 1839

No-one could’ve told him, in that Paris boulevard
one sunlit morning, he’d be famous,

remarkable for such an everyday act
as standing still. Tall and rangy, his foot is raised

to a shoe-shine’s stool, as the crouching figure
– beyond recognition – bends over his boot

to buff it up. And down in the teeming street,
to all appearances deserted,

the trees blur slightly as a breeze stirs branches,
though everyone is annulled

by long exposure, shutter speed that renders them
– if at all – as no more than a smudge.

But there – stock-still, stately almost –
this man commands our attention, held in stasis

by the boot-black’s chore. A known
unknown – the first of his photographed kind.

‘In her fitful correspondence with…one of her teenage idols, Hugues mentions the kaleidoscopic mirror still hanging in the hall at number 7 Schöneberg’.    
Chloë Daniel, London Review of Books,
reviewing Hannah’s Dress by Pascale Hugues

That mirror never grabbed you then. Too late,
    it framed the famous long before you
stared from its kaleidoscopic shine. All broken up,

a fractal capture of the teenager who’d lived
    doors down, the girl that idolised
the crush who’s telling you how Bowie, Iggy, Eno

all moued at their reflections, raised an eyebrow
    at each version of themselves, here
in the hallway where you stand now fully grown,

a crash pad for reclusive stars when Kraut Rock
    made the scene. Your dreams then
brought the wall down, vexed a thousand cracks

that splintered to a million souvenirs, each one
    authentic. Sure. Your teenage self
stares from your fractal face. You know the place.


What bane this house of falsity
endures. What pity and what pain.

As if the loss of Moray were not death
enough, sense must suffer too.

The things men misconstrue
will have it so. And grief is multiplied.

The House of Mondegreen,
no sooner found, has lost its dame.

As ears have lost the meaning,
lost the place the Earl lay bleeding,

while his assassins flee in haste
from double their disgrace.


She lives in a richness of villas and pools,
sunlight filtered through vines
and all she could ever have wanted

save love she would know for itself,
a folding and gathering in she longs for,
not as she longs for gadgets and gewgaws

there by the dozen, the asking for barely
a thought. What’s left in the well of her sense
is a presence she cannot explain,

cannot articulate, cossetted so by this life
that soothes her like balm. Somewhere existed
a cot and a bed, a curtain, an open pane

and voices at once both familiar – forgotten
as if from a dream, hands lifting her
out of her sleep and everything fading

to this. To a childhood, a language, the blue
of a swimming pool lit from below,
to the woman she knows is called mother

who names her as darling, as pet, as little one,
caresses her arm; the husband a cipher,
no more than a cheque book left on a desk,

a wallet pulled out of a drawer. Put back
to that place on a day – no, an evening, dim lit –
still somewhere deep in her mind,

is the struggle she holds in herself.
A curtain blows out of an open window.
Should she reach up, close the shutter this time?

About the contributor

Brian Johnstone’s poems have appeared in over twenty countries worldwide. He has published seven collections, plus the memoir Double Exposure (Saraband, 2017). His pamphlet Juke Box Jeopardy (Red Squirrel, 2018) was shortlisted for the Callum MacDonald Award 2019. He is a founder and former Director of the StAnza Poetry Festival. www.brianjohnstonepoet.co.uk

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