Neil Young

Jimmy Cagney’s Long-Lost Kid Half-Brother

Neil Young

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Friday night and a black and white telly,

Angels with Dirty Faces sent him

back to a latchkey childhood when

he’d sneak in for a matinee screening

and when he surfaced it was as one

of those scrappers in the backstreet cellar

and gym, the New York streets

he’d never seen but they had the rough glow

of those he called his own.


Oh yeah, he could tell you –

it was rich man’s justice that sent

Rocky O’Sullivan to the electric chair;

eyes ablaze, to see him you’d swear

he’d’ve swapped the settee right then,

no fear, to live for an hour in Rocky’s skin

and taken the volts as well.


By the time we got to seeing White Heat

he was trigger-happy with an index-finger gun,

fag-ash flying all over the carpet,

Top o’the World if we joined in;

By Public Enemy he was all lip

slapping coppers about the room,

pausing to shout for mugs of tea

when adverts butted in.


For years, when I was young enough

to believe it, or almost believe,

he told me he was Jimmy Cagney’s

(never James to him) long-lost kid half-brother.

Later they’d slit their thumbs as blood brothers

or be promoted to cousins. By then

I’d worked it out: they could’ve been


And Cagney –scrapper, hoofer, wise-cracker –

was just a kick in the arse from being

one of the Dead End Kids, or him,

as if they’d grown at each other’s wing:

one got as far as the factory gates,

the other one fluked a screen test.


Neil Young


Neil Young hails from Belfast and now lives in north-east Scotland, where he is co-founder of The Poets' Republic magazine. His poems have appeared in numerous magazines and journals. Neil's collections include Lagan Voices (Scryfa) in 2011, and The Parting Glass (Tapsalteerie). A new pamphlet, Jimmy Cagney's Long-Lost Kid Half-Brother, is due out in spring 2017 (Black Light Engine Room).