Fred Johnston

Cloud Cover & The Peacock Garden

Fred Johnston

Share Via:


Are you aware of me

swaddled in this temperate tube?

the clouds are like poured

concrete, hard enough to walk on

now and then a fissure opens

on a grid of small towns, a floor

of indifferent fields, a ruck

of hills. I might tumble through

like a shot bird, and I think of it,

my clawing at the blue air, kicking

for a hold on a wall of falling;

my breathing quickens, I drink

from a plastic cup a bitter hack

of in-flight wine. This is my terror,

that you will look up and see

a miles-high convulsion and spin

that you reach out forever and fail

to catch me, to break my fall.


“Fly pride,” says the peacock.

* William Shakespeare

In those days of tower-block rooms,

rain on uncloseable windows

walls papery as starved skin

barks of love, yelps of battering

a symphony, I might have said,

an eruption of what’s grossly human

from a distance, a nowhere in the night

this rip of sound like sex

triumphant, or a child, for that matter,

in some unstifled agony

scythe-shaped and sudden to a tired mind

this gift or burden, erotic as pain –

I saw it once, preening behind its gate

blue-dark and impudent

unbelievable in the cement acres we

humbled through. It was obscene

as a cancer’s mock remission, a joke

at gun-point, a guffaw at a funeral

in a walled garden as blatant

as an insult, sure of itself, hateful:

but the dark was nothing

no place to sleep in

until the challenge of its cry

roared out the candles of our fear.

Fred Johnston

FRED JOHNSTON was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1951. In 1972 he received a Hennessy Literary Award for prose. In the mid-seventies he, along with Neil Jordan and Peter Sheridan, founded the Irish Writers' Co-operative, based in Dublin. In 1986 he founded Galway city's annual Cúirt literature festival and in 2002, the Western Writers' Centre in Galway, Ireland. A novelist, short story writer and dramatist as well as a poet, in the late nineties his play, 'No Earthly Pole,' on the life of Sir John Franklin, was staged at Galway's Punchbag Theatre as part of the Galway Arts Festival. In 2004 he was appointed writer in residence to the Princess Grace Irish Library in Monaco. His work has appeared in The Spectator, The Sunday Times, The Financial Times, Stand, The Irish Times, The London Magazine, The Edinburgh Review and, in the US, The Southern Review, The Sewanee Review and elsewhere. He also writes and publishes poetry in French. He lives in Galway, Ireland. 

More poems by this author: