Fred Johnston

The Word

I knew the woman who jumped from the fourth floor

Though no one uses that verb, they say

She fell. (Not having protected her, the town protects itself.)

Let’s praise the river for its mercies, the railway-track

For its certainty, the heavy highways, the rampant trucks

All the accoutrements abounding, even the silly pill

Let’s not embarrass anyone. The will to death is not

For afternoon tea conversation, nor for the 

Male-thick loudness of bar-room philosophers

It stays with old ladies who take a window, who can’t

Shout anymore, who have shouted all their lives

Who are breathless, dumb from shouting, their throats

Shut. Maybe in their fall they find the word, 

The one word that would have sounded above the noise

Of everything else, a resounding, rooftop crushing

Utterance crouched there all the time in 

The larynx, stuck like a bone in the vocal-chords, a word,

The same word perhaps for all of us, swallowed

With our first intake of breath; or later, with love

Or its mute absence, at any rate when we were made

To ingest the fat truth of alone-ness. And it choked us.

Fred Johnston was born in Belfast in 1951 and educated there and Toronto, Canada. A journalist for some years, in the mid-Seventies, with Peter Sheridan and Neil Jordan, he set up the Irish Writers’ Co-operative (Co-Op Books,) in Dublin, having received a Hennessy Literary Award for prose in 1972. In Galway, he founded the annual literary festival, CUIRT, in 1986, followed by the Western Writers’ Centre –Ionaid Scribhneoiri Chaitlin Maude. He was writer-in-residence at the Princess Grace Irish Library in Monaco in 2004; he received a Kathleen and Patrick Kavanagh Bursary a few years ago, and several Arts Council bursaries, one from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. Eight collections of poetry have been published, the most recent, Rogue States, published by Salmon Poetry in 2019.