The Burning Map

Joan Johnston

The credits are rolling. Mam lays aside
the Sunday crossword, the cardigan
she's always been knitting, and yawns.

Between crimson curtains sunlight slants
through the bay-window, warms one arm
of the red moquette sofa then the other;

takes all afternoon to slide over the carpet
in orange squares that stretch into diamonds,
climb the wall, spotlight the mirror, illuminate

the ballerina perfectly balanced en pointe
and framed in gilt against white anaglypta.
Occasional dust-motes glint and flare

while outside Dad continues
scraping years of gloss off the back door.
Under the blue flame of the hissing blowlamp

paint blisters burst and peel away
like the map at the start of Bonanza.

Joan Johnston

Joan Johnston was born in Newcastle. For the last 20 years she has worked as a writer in hospitals, prisons, day-centres and schools, and with women's groups, the elderly and the homeless. She currently teaches creative writing with Adult Learning & Skills in Gateshead. Joan is a recipient of a Hawthornden Fellowship and her work has been widely published in magazines and anthologies. Her Diamond Twig collection What You Want was published in 1998, and other poetry collections include: Breathing In (Flarestack, 1997) and Orange for the Sun (dogeater, 2005).

Some of her work will be included in a forthcoming anthology from the Northern Poetry Workshop (In Your Own Time, pub. Shoestring Press, Spring 2012).

The Burning Map is taken from her new collection, The Daredevil: Scenes from a Bigamist Marriage and other poems (Red Squirrel Press, 2011). Writing The Daredevil sequence - about her mother's marriage - has prompted her curiosity in life stories, and especially how people tell them. So at the moment she is pursuing an interest in non-fiction and in particular, the interview.

She says: "The Burning Map is an attempt to capture time, in particular one long Sunday afternoon at home in the 1960's when suddenly I wasn't sure who I belonged to, or who I was...."

Joan's previous Poem of the Month is Blue Plaque; read her more recent poem (and news) Widow.

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The Burning Map © 2011 Joan Johnston: used with permission.
Copyright of this poem remains with the poet: please do not download or republish without permission.