"Algiers": a new poem by Fred Johnston

What I can remember are taxis and a long walk by the docks. . .

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What I can remember are taxis and a long walk by the docks
smell of oil and tar and fish-stalls by the mosque –
where were you, daughter, who crept out in photographs?

Those white buildings, white as blind eyes, and the casbah
with its deceit of lanes and entrances; and a donkey
for no reason still as held breath in the middle of the street 

Where were you in all of this, can you remember for me?
I needed cheap wine and pills to keep me buoyant
someone to read the street-maps, take care of us both

Invisible to myself, was I invisible to you? Dust and blue sea,
afternoons heavy and viscous as poured concrete –
rank wine in the teeth and a tongue burnt by black tobacco

Postcards that told lies, I wrote them in the old French rooms
needing witnesses, the post-box became a confessional –
we’re as out of touch now as then, images with their colours bled
Out, we may as well not have existed. Algiers did that
and the other places, exotic or plain,
I doubt we trailed a decent shadow through all that light.

Fred Johnston was born in Belfast and lives in Galway, where he founded the Western Writ-ers’ Centre. His most recent collection of poems is Alligator Days (Revival Press).

This article appears in the 12 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The anti-Trump

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