Brian Johnstone: Two poems


All that was wanted from yesterday’s shop
has been subtly changed. It’s polished and free
of the dust we remember

from shelves of the stuff men would search,
with their sleeves rolled up,
a frown on their faces

as they rummaged away. More often than not,
they’d sold out; the last one
a week ago, gone. The stock answer:

no more demand. Now it sits here
today, almost better than new,
lit up by halogen spots, ordered from places

where men frown over their work,
over values, traditional ware, for such stores
where the dust, were it there,

would be packaged as well, done
up for the till, an accessory styling the present
with pasts we need to hold on to, recall.

Excavating Dere Street on Soutra, 1966
i.m. I.A.G.S.

As schoolboys, fresh from class, we played
at it: inspecting artefacts for signs of age,
committing hieroglyphs to memory, but this

was real. A swathe of empty ground roped off ,
turf stripped, its rooty, gritty layer prised away,
and squared with string, as stone by stone

the road appeared, the sloping cobbled surface
that we set about with trowel and brush, anxiety
our only check, trying to ignore the chill wind

beating up the slope, as men who trod this route
millennia ago, formations keeping them in step,
did their own way, finding bedded in these hills

a strangeness quite removed from anything
they’d recognise, call home. What we found,
brushing at the soil, picking peat caked hard

from in between the stones, was this: a surface
time prepared for us and hid beneath the moor;
a language written in a script our eyes translated

into camber, rutting, gradient; so strange we only
recognised it brought to light, scholars playing
out our learning, youth seeking signs of age.

Copyright © Brian Johnstone 2013

Brian Johnstone’s poetry has appeared throughout the UK, in America and Europe, his poems having been translated into over 10 different languages. His latest collection is The Book of Belongings (Arc, 2009) and, in the same year, Terra Incognita, a small collection of his poems in Italian translation, was published by L’Officina (Vicenza).


About sunnydunny

Poet, publisher, gardener
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2 Responses to Brian Johnstone: Two poems

  1. This the first time I have read your poetry and already I’m in love with it. You have a marvelous gift, using language to evoke the moment in a sensitive, direct way to the reader’s mind and heart.

    • Thank you very much for your comments here – and on my two more recent poems on The Open Mouse. Happy that my work has connected so well. Do take a look at my website – link below – for lots more poems (audio, video & text). And do connect with me on Facebook for news of readings & publications – I’m at BrianJohnstone.poet there.

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