Ross Wilson

A Handshake in Thought, Roots & Hope Street

Ross Wilson

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A HANDSHAKE IN THOUGHT

He almost broke my hand.

Ah’m a heavyweight, he explained

when I acknowledged his grip,

thinking, a heavyweight drinker,

as he stumbled into the bar snug

where I sat alone with a book and a beer.

We talked boxing.


He was a former champion.

Ah used tae spar wi Henry Cooper.

A gentleman, though best ye duck

Enry’s Ammer.

His face looked as if ducking

had never been on his agenda.

A large fist caressed a dram.


Yi’r no fae roond here.

What ye in toun fir?

The poetry festival.

His features twisted into a gargoyle.

Poetry n art say fuck all

tae fowk noo.

I handed him a poem of my own.


I like to think he still has it

as I like to recall the way his eyes lit

as the world inside my words

gulped down deep inside of him

like a dram, leaving a warm

glow of recognition

as a connection was made


between page and brain,

like the handshake of two men,

unknown to each other,

reaching across a bar.


ROOTS

Roots are nourishing.

Roots haud ye back.


He was flourishing when

his boots stopped in their tracks.


Where ye hink yir gaun?

A voice demanded in a bark,


tongues snaring his shins

like heavy chains or straps.


Or anchors dragging him down

to earth like it was a trap


and not something to grow in

or drink from like a tap.


Roots are nourishing.

Roots haud ye back.


HOPE STREET

The bus stop framed in this pub window

reminds me of a story I wrote years ago.

Where Ye Gaun? was the title.

I see Hope Street glow on a bus timetable

through my reflection ghosting the pane.

Election posters are plastered on

buses like alternative destination screens

promising people places they can be taken

if they let themselves be taken in.


A nonentity celebrity never was

has been blown out of all proportion:

a selfie God with no talent or skill;

a perpetual teenager who can’t even pull

a smile from the face the Reality he stars in

bought him. The bus he’s on passes.

I turn to faces framed by the gantry

and scroll down my newsfeed.

Friends are un-friending, blocking, deleting.


People can’t see The Truth. It appears

a shapeshifter morphing into whatever

they can see from where they happen to be.

Online debates explode and spread wildfire.

I see a poster on a bus featuring a man

like a Pied Piper, leading immigrants

to the shore. To some, it’s a postcard

from the Third Reich. To others, a ticket home

to a country they no longer feel is their own.


I sit in Scotland, in the Divided Kingdom,

on the edge of Europe, scrolling for

a golden mean among slogans and memes

and Tricksters convincing others of The Truth.

Those who can’t see it will be deleted

so those who do can tell each other

what they already know. Voices echo

in the chamber in my palm.

I turn it off, reach for a book, open


to the flyting of MacDiarmid and Henderson.

The Scottish Literary Renaissance versus

the Folk Revival; literary culture versus

the oral tradition; page versus stage.

I absorb auld words and beer,

and in my head hear an old troubadour

sing about poets fighting in a captain’s tower

while everybody is shouting

which side are you on?


Court jesters on opposite sides of an ocean

are competing with politicians to be king

while a woman called Mayhem darkens like a storm.

In Hope Street, traffic flows left and right

through my reflection in the pane.

My face blurs with an actor promoting a film. 

I can’t see much through this small frame.

I can’t look out without looking in.

Which side are you on? Where we gaun?


Ross Wilson


Ross Wilson comes from West Fife, Scotland. His poems have appeared in many literary magazines and anthologies including Edinburgh Review and Poetry Salzburg Review. He also contributed to the script of The Happy Lands, an acclaimed award-winning feature film in which he was credited as an actor. A full time Auxiliary Nurse for the NHS, his first full collection of poetry will be published by Smokestack Books in 2018. As an amateur boxing champion, he represented Scotland V Ulster and lost!

Photo by Eamonn McGoldrick.