Four poems by Caroline Johnstone

Solvitur ambulando

Sleep eludes me for we wait, and still we must wait;
for change comes slowly, slowly, in drips
of sweetened milk and force-fed quiet protest.

We must be ladylike as we rock the status quo.
Resistance must not stamp its feet, flaunt itself,
give anyone excuses to blame our sex.

They waved their placards, politely petitioned
for rights, took toffee hammers to shop windows,
set fire to the establishment –

yet still we pick our steps through cacophonies
of wolf whistle stares, sexist shaped salaries,
misogyny that chokes us, clings like muck to our souls.

It is not us who needs to clean our act up.

The moon turns the pages of a new century,
reaches to the corner of my room, shines
on my soft leather boots that sit, tongue silenced.

Worn out and ready to be polished, their impotent gaze mocks
my rage that this path still needs treading,
for we wait, as the world pussy foots around us.

The moon turns the pages of a new century,
reaches to the corner of my room,
shines on soft leather boots that wait to be polished –

optical illusions of movement, déjà vu dances.
Tongue silenced, their impotent gaze mocks
my rage that still we wait, we still have miles to travel.

..

Asylum

 

There were locked wards in the mental hospital I first worked in,
the kind that made you scurry away from the howling, banging,
heavy iron doors locked with jangling keys.

Outside our office, the ones they said were harmless mad
would wander, wait to pounce with sly smiles asking for money
for cigarettes, a ribbon for her unwashed hair, a stamp.

This was Katie’s home and prison; suitable accommodation
for family shame, far from observing eyes and lies and questions
for an unmarried mother with not even the money

to emigrate, take a boat journey to decency and respectability
in England, spend the next two years in slavery to pay
for the privilege of silence, face nuns taking her child

away for ever. She was never mad or bad, she could just never
forget his face, tiny white-nailed hands, pink lips that sucked
furiously in his desire to live, that left her crying for weeks,

tears spilling like milk from redundant breasts. Grief stalked her.
She haunted our letterbox, searched for replies for the letters
she sent with my stamps, no forwarding address.

..

Human Beings of the Lesser Spotted Kind
Half the sky’s still
Boxed in by their gender.
Each woman – meek and mile –
Should know her place.
Cultural frameworks created
And then categorised by men
Hold most in place firmly,
Deviation classified
A witch, a goddess, bitch;
Human beings
Of the lesser spotted kind.

..

Man Up

Scissors spilled out of her mouth,
sheared deep wounds in his psyche,
chopped things that mattered into pieces,
cut him right down to size

She chipped him away from his friends
and loved ones, flew into rages,
blamed and berated him, big waste
of space, for her failings.

In shame each evening, he picks up his invisible wounds,
then sweeps them under
the carpet, where no-one will see them,
and fewer believe.

Caroline Johnstone is originally from Northern Ireland, now happily living by the sea in Ayrshire.  She writes stories through her poems, mainly on philosophical, political and life experience themes and has been published in the UK, Ireland and the U.S. She is the social media manager for the Federation of Writers Scotland, is the Secretary for the Poets Advisory Group for the Scottish Poetry Library, is a member of Scottish Pen and the Scottish Writers Centre, and was the social media manager for the Women Aloud NI cross-community group.

 She writes books on journaling and happiness and wellbeing, and runs a number of workshops that dare people to be happier. .