• Judy Johnson


Celtic Fort

(County Monaghan)


This is the world:
there is no more than this …
Speak: and the ghosts of change,
past and to come,
Throng the brief word.      Conrad Aiken.



Nothing left of it now but a modest hill

with three-sixty degree views


of sewn fields, pockets turned inside out

for the seamstress needle.


The hedge-sutures are dark, and between them

that endless Irish cliché: green on green.


No one could have ambushed the Celts

with the lack of blind spots in their lookout’s


turning vision. And the stone bones of their miseries

so finely tuned, they would ache at an unfamiliar

                    quiver-full of desolation.


My imagination’s stuck in the domestic.

Looking down to the ghost of an ox


dragging an ordinary plough

through an arable day

                              in the land below.


Its viking horns etch the shape

of a begging bowl.


Its eyes are musket balls.


It seems to swim

           inside its wooden yoke.

And while the entrapment’s


constant, it would only be truly painful

when the ox shakes its head

                             to dislodge a pesky bird.


D, standing beside me, confesses

he is restless


           after thirty years of waking

to the same face on the opposite pillow.


He doesn’t think his marriage

can survive the loss of that flame. 


I say nothing but wonder why

with all of its charge


the heart is too stubborn to conjure

          a single spark of passion on its own.


He stares out to some invisible


          hoping for a break in the impasse. 


Something solid to roar against.

A beloved enemy

                    charging over the next hill. 


But all is still.  The grey air so close

holding its breath. 

                     And no birds sing. 


This site could be mistaken

for somewhere holy, but that’s just time


and the imaginary wisdom of continuance.


What is tangible is the trinity,

                    unchanged for millenia:


the ache of human melancholy

settled in the gap between the sky’s sinking


           and the land rising up to meet it.




The Burren

(Galway Bay, Ireland)


I’ve brought home two shards of stone the size

of a premature baby’s fists

                     from the other side of the world.


And something less easy to steal:

                             a kind of absence

that isn’t smooth

                     but a crazy pave of grikes

and clints and all connected


                     for a planet’s sharp and broken skin.


The Burren is a brain left out in the sun.

         Grown tired of yearning for

                                        its megalithic ocean


each square inch graffitied with sea-going fossils.


In 1700 Edmund Ludlow saw nothing but wasteland.

           Country with no water

                               to drown a man in, 

                                                   no trees to hang him,

                                                             no earth to bury him.


But the places that get inside us,

          those that have meaning for the long haul

                              are always alien.  Never need us.   

                                        They exist only

                                                  out of their element.


I remember the cloven hooves of cattle clattering

          over the Burren’s surface like clock ticks,


                                       the long, pink straps of their tongues

dipping for ferns that grow between fissures

                    under the pewter of a west country sky.


          Proving nature abhors a vacuum. 

                                                 Except of course, it doesn’t.

                              Nor the opposite of abhorring

                                                 nor anything in between.


It’s us who hate emptiness.

          So here, in these two shards of stone, can you see the miracle?

                   The bright brave flowers of ammonites

                                                 sprung from a barren land.