June – Joan Johnston

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Allotments
i.m. Frederick

i Seeds

The seeds he collected have dried inside
their sealed manilla envelopes, labelled

in his old-fashioned hand: Cornflower,
Marigold, Love-in- a-Mist
, saved

in a biscuit tin with a rusted lid
you ease open, observing

the moment of their preservation,
the perfect airtight storage,

and yourself bringing them to light,
scattering some on a freshly dug bed,

sowing the rest in warmth, under glass.

 

ii Summer yield

The rain butt brims green
water: it pours down the sides

as you plunge your arm in
to fill his watering can,

floods the strawberry bed
now choked with vetch

and nettles. You cut the climbing
beans he planted – Blue Lake, note

his straight rows, how the onions
have begun to topple, a sign

they’re almost ready to be lifted, laid
on the soil in the sun, then cleaned,

stored. You leave his cabbages to hearten
as he said, in spring, you should.

Cherry tomatoes, sweet peppers
take on their first tinge

then deepen into red. Day after day
yellow cucumber flowers open.

 

iii The greenhouse

Jimmy and Bob dismantle it. In one afternoon
it’s gone. The earth floor his feet made smooth

is darkened by rain as they lift and carry panes
through long grass, making a new path to fresh

ground where they will rebuild it
to face south, will fit together again

all its sections in a sequence
they commit to memory as they work.

 

 

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Pol in her Coffin

She’s done with waiting for no man
but Al. Al and all his dallying.
Done with all the one-last- chances,
the hanging-on- for-five- more-minutes
after work, in the cold, at the tram stop.

She’s finished with that
and look what he missed: Pol
all done up, her curls still girlish.

 

 

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A Blue Plaque – on a garden wall
for Dad

Our Heritage: this wall he built
to last till kingdom come.
One fine weekend, May ‘67.
Procul Harum were No. 1.

(Visitor – you’re invited to touch.
Be warmed by his brickwork, his suntrap.
Lean against it: the mortar still holds
the tune, him whistling it)

 

 

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A Blue Plaque – in the library
for my aunt

Our Heritage: her office work,
the lasting marks she made.
Ten years of afternoons
typing the catalogue, the index cards.

(Her part-time job. Being married
and restless she’d returned
to books, her baby buried)

 

 

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A Blue Plaque – above a front door
for my grandmother

Our Heritage: this heavy door
– its grain, brass keyhole,
letterbox – she polished
each Tuesday without fail
using scrim, elbowgrease,
cream from a tin.

(Visitor – note how easy it is
to find this house among so many.
From the end of the street
small child could locate
he white doorstep, its brightness
her landmark)

 

 

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J is for Janet

Forty years, more,
but she’s easy to conjure:

every time I sign my name
she’s there, described

in our shared initial letter
we re-designed, perfected

together and practised until
it became second nature,

our stylish, unique mark.
She occupies the trailing stroke

falling through the blue
feint line, breaking regulations;

its continuing loop, unrestrained,
the boldness of its flourish

as it ascends and returns these days,
approaches a full circle – enclosing

space where I always find her
lightness of touch, her hand in mine.

 

 

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Closing Scene

The riverbank took
its own….slow time
to give way….give me up
but there was nothing I could do
to stop….nothing I reached for
held
long enough.

I was in it….up to my neck.
A standing dead-weight
my bloated coat
dragging…….the astonishing
push
of the current spooling,
fast-forwarding us

to our closing scene:
you alone….your face
a timeslip….your arms
open to me as ever
but never once like this
in all our years….our lives together

 

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Ada in spring

comes out when she’s ready and not before.
In a lilac fleece, risking rain showers

she hangs her washing – two bleached tea-towels,
an embroidered tablecloth – in the back yard first thing

then sits for a moment on the rickety chair before going
back in, carefully leaving the door half-open behind her.

 

 

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Titles & publication credits as follows:

Allotments (a sequence of three) – (pub. in Orange for the Sun, dogeater press 2005)
Pol in her Coffin (pub. The Daredevil, Red Squirrel Press 2011)
Blue Plaque poems (ie 3 separate poems) (pub. The Daredevil, as above)
J is for Janet (pub. The Daredevil, as above)
Closing Scene (unpublished)
Ada in Spring (pub. An Overtaking, Red Squirrel Press 2016)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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