Featured Poet

Fred Johnston


( Galway, Ireland )

The Blue Whale

In the window of The Blue Whale
Faces of red clay pout and scowl,
And a tired girl pushes a pram up, up
The slope of the rue Rodier, 
Walking slowly, almost elegant
In a blue-spotted dress and bare legs.
	Here is the house where Nogashima,
Tanka master, lived and wrote - read
His chiseled plaque. And just above it,
Leaning from a black wrought-iron balcony,
	A girl, bare-armed, with her hair
	Falling over her face,
	Appears to be waiting for someone.


He watches her
And she takes her time,
Moving towards him like a Holy Day.
Under the roof of light,
In the cathedral of the train station.


The sex theatres slope away
From the Moulin Rouge,
With their window displays
Of sex toys and key-rings,
And penis bath-plugs, statuettes
Of leather-boys, ashtrays
With gartered legs wide - 
	There is everywhere the smell,
Not diluted on the petrol air,
	Of old hot sweat and disinfectant.
At every corner now a sign
	Pointing to the Cimetiere de Montmartre.
A tour gathers, lightly embarrassed,
Outside the Moulin Rouge. Cameras flirt
In black leather cases,
	A wall-plaque gossips
	Of Colette. The coloured bulbs circle.


He hesitates, 
Shy minotaur, 
Underground in his half-light,
The mythic roar in the tunnels. 
The left hand covering
The right with a rolled newspaper,
He dips two fingers
Into the pocket of the man in front.
He's dancing, 
Fluid, rehearsed,
Two-stepping into the carriage, 
Turning, stepping out.
None the wiser, 
The violated pocket is smooth:
The air falling down the Métro steps
Sings with traffic noise. 
	Screaming, the platform retreats - 
	He is a man with a newspaper, waiting.

Rue Lacépede
I am the fat, slow old woman
Whose dress drops from her waist, 
Whose white belly hangs,
Whose head hangs, 
Who has nothing to say.
They are laughing out of youth,
As if youth were a gaping mouth,
As if the world was not a mouth
That swallowed, 
Sucked, spat out the heart's bones. 
Tonight it's hot, no breath,
The big tree does not move a leaf, 
Not a leaf. A mouse
Runs in terror under the parked
Motorbikes. Girls show their thighs.
Like the planets, I have my orbit:
Round and round, over
The cobble-stones where Mérimée spoke
To me when I was beautiful.
I go round and round, looking for him.
The mad red sapeurs pompiers
Flick their blue, blue lights - 
The wicker chairs tip back on two legs,
There is so much noise, drinking, eating:
I am across the Square, a ghost to it all. 

Author’s note:

These poems were written in Paris between August 1st and August 14th. My thanks are due to a variety of people: Patricia Nolan, poet, for the use of her apartment; Annie Semmau, poet, for her hospitality and conversation; Ulick O'Connor, writer, for a marvellous dinner and evening at Les Deux Magots; Mike Walsh and Petra McNulty for their hospitality; the portrait painter Reginald Gray for his.

Some of these poems were read for the first time at Shakespeare & Co., bookshop, on the rue de la Boucherie embankment on Monday, August 13th. My thanks to Luke, and to George Whitman, proprietor.

Fred Johnston,
Blvd. Bessieres,

August 2001.

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Current Issue - Winter 2003