“The Unfinished Poem” and other poems by Caroline Johnstone

The Unfinished Poem

The house his mind once called its home
Has gaping roofs, and paint-cracked eaves,
Of forget-me-not blues
The frosted brittle skeletons of history and wit served now
As a porridge of forgetfulness, faint echoes haunt
Sweet gentle kisses of remembrance
Dementia’s wraiths roam shadowed emptied rooms,
Herald long laments for lonely roads where memories float
In space yet give no hope, no sense of place.
As Alice keeps on falling down the rabbit-holes of grief
The curtains close on last acts interrupted.
Observers weep at unfinished poems.

1771 – The American Wake

(published by The Galway Review)

My firstborn child declared his independence,
Said he would choose to live, not die, by drought that stalked us all,
Or drown by workhouse shame.

The death knell rang. America had called, cried freedom, hope.
He left our land, was pushed by fear, by poverty that gnawed his soul,
And pulled by hope, and images of greener lands than these.

While on the hill, the landlord nodded, raised the rents
And watched our young ones leave forever, while theirs stayed safe and full
Behind closed doors in yon big houses.

The winds of fear and loss drowned out the tears we cried at wakes,
Where we drank health and wealth to you, drank in your face;
No graves to visit; still, the keening echoes in my ears.

That final day; that darkest morning, as you had hope held high in rags,
We walked with friends who carried heavy sighs, as I would carry now
Two worlds on shoulders, and lead in my heart.

You walked the gangplank, bravely bridged the old and new,
Stood tall and waved, your long farewell that carried over waves,
And left me, as birds forsake their nest, on empty shores, bereft.

February East Winds

Salt and pepper snowflakes
On hair, eyes, lips,
Eurus delivers last-gasp drama.
Frosted fingers breathe
Heartless, fierce red dawns
That slice through jackets,
Blow harsh winds bringing
Cries of Arctic terns
Huddled together for warmth

Tea and Sympathy

He left her fearful, lonely.
Tea and sympathy
No sweetener to
Her furious grief.

Ghosts brushed past her;
Wrapped grey fog
Around her heart;
Buried it in thorns.

She wakened, wrote her pain
In journals, powerful poems;
First aid to a broken heart,
First chapter of her new life.

Zipped		 her lips
With 	fine stitches;
The silent needle	 scarred.
She buried it 		deep
In the pocket 		of her handbag,
Stayed 		in her gilded cage
With a 		silent bird’s rage;
Her plumage 		a masterpiece
Masking 		her shame.

The Unfinished Poem and other poems are © Caroline Johnstone

Caroline Johnstone is originally from Northern Ireland, now living in Ayrshire. Since 2014, she has been telling stories through her poetry, writing mainly on philosophical, political and life experience themes. She has been published in The Galway Review, Positively Scottish, The Scottish Book Trust, Belfast Life, the Burningwood Literary Journal, HCE Review, in The Snapdragon Journal, The Dove Tales Anthology, The Bangor Literary Journal and the latest Federation of Writers (Scotland) anthology Landfall. She was also shortlisted for Tales in the Forest, the Imprint Festival, and by People Not Borders.

She’s taken part in The Big Renga, a month-long collaborative poem, and was interviewed by Sara Cox on BBC Radio 2 about this. She is a Scottish Poetry Library Ambassador, a member of the Federation of Writers (Scotland), has been interviewed by children and parents in Dubai at a poetry workshop there, helps with the social media for the cross-community group Women Aloud NI, is part of the FreshAyr initiative and their poetry events, and she runs The Moving On Poetry Group weekly in Kilmarnock.

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