Four Allegories Of Independence by Brian Johnstone

From the age of 16, nigh on 50 years ago, I have been a supporter of independence – or home rule as I’d have called it then – and am honoured to be able to support the current campaign with both writing and performances. The allegorical poems featured below were read at Yestival events in Perth and St Andrews and are here presented in full. Each poem is a stand alone take on an aspect of the drive for independence – both what it is an escape from and what I hope it will lead to – linked to a specific date in the long history of the movement.

Brian Johnstone

An allegory of The Scottish Covenant: a petition for home rule signed by two million but ignored.

Railings Wasted

Scarce a wall outside a pre-war house
does not betray the past in some way

with these lines of sores, lead long ago
poured in to set what’s left just rows

of stumps, still clear near to a century
since amputation proved to be the fate

of railings everywhere. No matter
that the iron languished year on year

in depots, dumps and stores. Its time
would come as surely as necessity

will always find its place. In this case
ballast in the holds of empire, rusting

right away, and come the white heat
of the future, science-led, the PM said

would forge a new land – bottoming
for ring roads, leading nowhere fast.

An allegory of the first devolution referendum: won by a majority but nullified by chicanery.

A Stand of Thistles

As if guarding the crossroads,
a stand of thistles fronts an empty sky,
the stretch of green

between them and the road,
a swathe where mowers have cleared
a view of either way.

Dusty from the heat,
the grime of passing traffic marking
those cut closest to the edge, they seem

no worse for weather dry as this
as from the action of the blade,
each barb: a test, a challenge to the end.

An allegory of the second devolution referendum: the remnants of empire Scotland has begun to escape.

National Trust

The dust that’s hoovered up from fabric,
brushed from ornaments and artefacts

is all that’s left, a consolation prize
for pasts on which the sun (they said)

would never set. What’s fading here
is empire, nothing less, fading

in these sagging sofas, threadbare chairs
roped off to keep the public’s weariness

from any chance of rest. Fading even
as the dust sheets carefully are spread

at summer’s end, the curtains all
are drawn against the light, and gauze

across the vacuum’s mouth arrests,
for one more season, certain slow decay.

An allegory of the independence referendum: Scotland’s chance to take its place in the company of nations.

A Hedge in the Making

In the verges, field margins, round the edge of the wood,
they’re everywhere, growing apace, a clamour of saplings
in last season’s leaves – withered and dead to the wind –

but stems supple, straight with new life. These we ease
from the soil – beech hedge in the making – barrow down
to the end of the plot, puddle in with design that our care

for the taking requires. No boundary but a gesture of need,
a quest for the shelter we found wanting for years and here,
with the promise of growth in the stems, can see marking

a lot unconfined. Hedged in, there are ever gaps in the line
where views of the distance are still to be seen, but stitched
now to the nap of this place, hemmed by the turn of a spade.


About Brian Johnstone

Brian Johnstone is a poet, writer and performer from Fife. His work has appeared throughout Scotland, in the UK, America and various European countries. He has published six collections to date, his latest being "Dry Stone Work" (Arc, 2014). "Terra Incognita" (L’Officina, Vicenza) a small collection in Italian translation was published in 2009, his poetry now having been translated into more than ten different languages. He has frequently collaborated with artists in other media, and is well known for his poetry & jazz performances with Trio Verso. A founder and former Festival Director of StAnza: Scotland’s International Poetry Festival, he has appeared at international poetry festivals from Macedonia to Nicaragua, as well as at many festivals and venues across the UK.