Sue Johns was born in Penzance, Cornwall in 1958 and now lives in South London.Sue began writing and performing as a 'punk poet' and is veteran of the London circuit. She has performed at festivals and cabarets around the country as a solo performer and with Dodo Modern Poets and also writes and performs theatrical monologues.
Sue has been published in numerous magazines and anthologies, most recently Time for Song a collection of Cornish poetry (Morgan's Eye Press, 2009) She has published five collection of poetry:
Hearfelt 1989, Safe as Houses 1992, Black Dress 1995, Tantrum 1998,
A Certain Age 2003
A new collection Hush (Morgan's Eye Press, 2011) is now available.

 

Poems and Short Stories


  

 The Goose the Ghost and the Man                                                                             

The Clink was my manor where I still reside with the whores

(The Winchester Geese), the paupers, the dispossessed.

In the still of a twenty first century Sunday to the rattling of trains,

in the shadow of The Shard, through the countless

skulls and syphilitic bones, it is as goose I rise.

 

Not a bird fattened in the cloisters destined

for a Christmas plate, I am heroin chic,

super model thin as I slip through The Red Gates.

I caress its ribbons, poems, its tiny bears, a shrine

to the ‘working girls’ homespun and trafficked.

 

From my sisters of the past to those

who trade on the pavements of London,

Birmingham, Nottingham. Snuffed out

like the candles nestling in the weeds they

will burn again as the stones are turned to beating organs.

 

I honk and glide over the rooftops the narrow

streets no longer running with stinking waste,

over the Bishop’s ruins whose coffers

held the rent from the lodgings

where I spread my legs.

 

Where people make a game of history

at the Golden Hinde gift shop and gloat

at the gory prison where my mother fell to jail fever.

Over The Cathedral where I whispered

my unanswered prayers to St Mary Overie.

 

Over the market where I sold myself

at Southwark Fair. The wharfs that knew

mob rule, that rocked to music

and pleasures of the flesh, now

sterile boxes to seal the wealthy off.

 

Hissing over the singing Thames

to the seats of government, law, and finance -

the old haunts of the father I never knew.

I seek a certain type of gentleman.

I enter the safe sleep of lawyer, judge, stockbroker, priest.

 

In dreams they wrestle me in my room

at The Anchor their portly bodies

enfolded in my wings. With a scratching in their groins

they awake perspiring on feather pillows

beside their cold and tidy wives,

 

dress to face an innocent morning, soap

me from their shiny skins. In hangman tight

ties, mildly harassed by the half-digested grass

upon their stairs they pause in doorways,

prepare to stride their importance into the light.

 

Before I launch, take flight to Crossbones,

their feet embed themselves in my excrement,

with a final twist of my elegant white neck

I rip through expensive shoe leather

and peck at their adulterous heels.

 

Crossbones Cemetery is the sight of a medieval burial ground in Southwark, London. Originally created for prostitutes known as The Winchester Geese, after The Bishop of Winchester whose title  permitted prostitution on the South bank, for 400 years, in return for rent from the brothels. 


 


Barrel Bomb

 

In a city where sirens hush the night creatures

and every morning is eaten off a knife. A widow comes

to breakfast on blood and masonry, plucking my

debris from the earth. The furrows of her palms are

ignorant of their cargo, as are the soles of her feet.

I am the penitent beggar at the heel of her

broken shoe. Sister! I cry in silence. Cast me skyward,

stop this mortiferios rain. Reverse my unguided fall,

refill me with oil. Remove my bearings from

the shredded limbs, return them to industry. Take me

back to scrap and pig-iron, have the furnace, re cast me

as a bed pan or scalpel. bring the nails from the hospital –

the ones that took the eye, the nose, the tongue.

Re-invent them as a trundle cot or crutches.


 

Coroner’s Report

 

They call you

Gentleman

Then list the quantities of

Heroin, crack and alcohol

 

Head injuries

Cellulites

(Heh, no wonder you were depressed)

The groin abscess

Injected just the day before

 

Nicotine on your fingers

Dirt under your nails

(No lipstick on your collar)

 

Asthmatic

‘Keep that cat off his bed’ Mum said

Hepatitis

C

 

Unwashed feet

Time of death

 

Lungs congested,

Kidneys disintegrated

But sorry mate your

Intestines were unremarkable

 


 

My Father and Other Junkies

 

In the crowded Aegean street the flashing neon bar signs cannot erase the image of my father lying on the study floor, the only movement a small trickle of his blood. I had opened his bureau with ease, leaving only a silver bracelet inscribed with No Blood Transfusion'. I don't know what had made me walk back that night to take one last look through his window, but after, there had been no turning back.

Every time I'd searched for a vein I had been reminded of blood. I could not donate the blood that would course the contents of the foil through my body. My father had refused the blood that could have saved my mother's life, after hers had been spread equally over the pavement and the bonnet of a BMW Z3. The blood of its driver diluted with vodka. Blood would stand out on my father's brow, as he sought to explain why his only child was lost in the wilderness. I had cut off my blood line like a tourniquet.

"No good there mate," a slurred voice had announced. "Council blokes'll ave it there".

I'd been trying to wedge my meagre belongings behind a telephone kiosk. My teeth were chattering, my body not fully accustomed to the outdoor life.

"In the grit bins. No one goes in there mate, less it's snowing". He retrieved my bundle and marched up Cold Harbour Lane, pausing to flash me a smile. "Sorted!" he said. He was Black Jack, nicknamed after his matching teeth and hair.

"I got lucky with a few quid last night. I could get us some grub," I offered. Someone had slipped twenty pounds into my sleeping bag outside Brixton station, one of my hopeful moments on the street, balanced by waking to find someone had emptied the remains of their McDonalds over me.

"Nice one mate", said Jack, "But I gotta rock. C'mon, Asda car park." I watched Jack as he crushed his lager can, pierced holes in it with a ring pull, covering them with cigarette ash to preserve the crack.

"Sorted!"

I bedded down with Jack that night, and next day we shared a tooth-grinding come down.

"I feel like shit," he said. "Let's get some food and beers." We set off for Cost-Cutter, which did a brisk trade in cheap lager. It was a while before I saw Jack again.

"Pete mate, what's appening?" he said hugging me the next time we met. His breath was rancid, and he'd lost more teeth.

"Not much. Had a squat for a while. How have you been?"

"Agh, pretty shit. I've got Hep C. Could get treated if I stayed in a hostel."

"Yeah, I'm having a crap day. Lost my sleeping bag".

Jack laughed. "Council blokes," we sang in unison.

"No worries," said Jack.' It's Saturday. There'll be bags of stuff outside Oxfam. Just pile all the clothes on you. Sorted!"

Later as Jack snored beside me I emptied a bin liner I'd salvaged from the charity shop onto my cardboard mattress. Baby clothes! Chuckling at my stupidity, I piled the little outfits over my body. As beseeching as a beggar, dawn held out its hands to Brixton and asked for a little change as I clasped baby-grows labelled three to six months. My face peered over a bib embroidered with the word Princess', and I opened one eye to see black high heel boots sprouting shapely thighs swallowed eventually by a tiny red skirt.

"I didn't know Mothercare had opened in this part of town." A frail blonde woman casually tossed a romper suit from my right leg.

"Hi, I'm Melissa".

"Pete! Open the fucking door." A hysterical voice came from outside my hostel door. Melissa had got me a room. We were getting clean. She had an uncle in Greece, who was offering work if we could raise the fare. I staggered to the door. Debbie, who used to work the streets with Melissa, stood there.

"It's Melissa. She's O.D'd. You'd better come."

Down the hall I could hear Yellow' by Coldplay, but I could only see red.

"She took her script and then had a hit'," Debbie gasped as we ran to the bus stop. "She did a trick, knew you guys needed money." Debbie paused for breath. "Went to some punter's house. He wanted her to do his girlfriend. He had a knife."

"Oh fucking hell." I saw blood; I always saw blood.

"No," Debbie assured me. "She's not hurt. It's just, she couldn't handle, he made her. Oh shit," she struggled to explain. "Her stepfather, used to make her have sex with her mum".

At the hospital I found Melissa lying with her hair spread over the pillow. She reminded me of the Fuselli painting, The Nightmare'; the sleeping woman with a monster on her chest. I remembered it from a visit to The Tate with the hostel. I wanted to destroy the monsters that had held Melissa and I down for years.

In B&Q I surveyed walls of weaponry. There were hammers, too heavy and difficult to conceal, so I settled for a chisel. I tested the blade on my finger, and thought of blood. Later I dialled a phone number I had not used for years.

"Dad, its Peter." There'd been a silence at the end of the line while bells rang in my father's head.

"Peter. How are you? Where are you?" My father sounded older, weaker, no longer a threat.

I'm O.K Dad. I'm over everything. I'm coming back to the church. I need your help." The lie stuck to my tongue. I swallowed it down.

"Oh Peter, I knew this would happen. I've prayed for this. When can you come?" He sounded almost excited. My father does not get excited.

"Next Tuesday, if that's O.K with you. There's a train gets in at one."

It was to be an extraordinary day for my father, yet he kept to his routine: toast and milky tea accompanied by a reading from The Watchtower'. Some would have dressed for the occasion, but his white shirts and sombre tank tops were arranged for the week. He was never a slave to fashion, unlike me. He had lectured me on the perils of vanity and he could have been an elder of the church, but for my disgrace. This thought caused him to grip the back of a chair.Holding onto furniture was an unconscious habit, but he was steady on his feet; it was a spiritual fall he feared. He glanced towards a framed photograph of a young couple on their wedding day. The woman, was fair haired and smiling. Looking at her beautiful face he wished he could have given her everything.

He had welcomed me with a cold, clammy handshake.

"Come in son," he said. He looked over my well worn clothes and then nodded approvingly at my short hair and shaven chin. "Shall I make some tea? Have you eaten?"

"I'm fine Dad. Tea would be nice." He led me into the Spartan living room, the walls bare except for a brass clock, it's ticking echoing in the void between us. "It's good tobe back Dad." I fingered the chisel in my pocket and glanced at my parent's photograph across the room.

"She chose her faith Peter, you realise that now?" His eyes sought out the medical bracelet on my wrist. He didn't know it was hers. My mother had been persuaded to wear it. She had been persuaded to comply with all the rules of her husband's religion, because she loved him, unconditionally. This was my opportunity to impress him. I forced a smile. He laughed, a false laugh, like a toy machine gun, aimed ineffectually in my direction. Like waves hitting shingle on Whitstable beach, a new wave of religious fervour crashed over him, The roaring in his ears drowned out my footsteps behind him as my knuckles turned white on the wooden handle.

The town had changed, tea shops born again as tapas bars. Young arty types jostled on the narrow streets with the retired majority, but the Oyster House was still prominent on the quay. As I had turned from my street I saw Tomlinson's sweetshop had become The Wave Bistro, but peering in, I could still see Mrs Tomlinson handing me one of the few treats I ever remember. I was expected to abstain from sport, cinema, dancing. But my mother and I had enjoyed secret excursions. My eyes met with those of a waitress, who stared at me briefly, then resumed chalking Mozzarella and Basil Panini 4.50' onto a board.

But now, it is the white town of Lindos that watches, open mouthed, at the start of two new lives. Melissa and I are climbing out of the gutter, on my father's stairway to heaven. I think of her now, finishing a shift at her Uncle's taverna, he had kept to his promise of jobs. I am in Faliraki on an errand. The alleyways linking its nightclubs have the aroma of the stairwells that had once housed me, alcohol and urine mixing with fried food and cheap perfume. I imagine Melissa back at our apartment, winding her hair around her fingers as if willing it to curl. On hearing me at the door she will remove her reading glasses, then cross the cool tiled floor to greet me. And I am no longer fearful of the colour that sweeps over the acropolis each evening.

As my father had entered his study to find me gone, he'd stared in disbelief, grabbed at the broken lock, cutting himself. The bundles of cash were already shifting against my clammy chest, I had stolen his treasure as he had stolen mine, my precious mother. I'd left him a reminder. He would rise eventually from the floor where he had lain down on the rough carpet with his memories. I will forgive him. Though my mother didn't choose her faith, he did. But I have made my own choices.

And he will forgive me, as he grips the banisters on his gloomy stairs. Slowly the postcards will arrive with explanations, photographs. He will see a young couple on their wedding day, the woman fair haired and smiling. Looking at her beautiful face, he will want to give her everything.

 

 

(Commissioned by and published in Loose Muse Anthology, Spring 2013,�Morgan's Eye Press)