Ross Wilson

A Handshake in Thought, Roots & Hope Street

Ross Wilson

Share Via:


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 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.


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 is a full-time Auxiliary Nurse and autodidact from Fife. His first full collection Line Drawing (Smokestack Books, 2018) was shortlisted for the 2019 Saltire Poetry Book of the Year. A pamphlet, Letters to Rosie, appeared from Tapsalteerie in 2020. A second full collection Vital Signs is now available from Red Squirrel Press. 

THE MAN BEHIND THE CAMERA (and Inching website)

Gregor Addison lives and works in Glasgow and has published poetry and prose in various magazines, such as New Writing Scotland, Chapman, Sogo, The Dark Horse, the Edinburgh Review, Cabhsair/Causeway, Gairm, and Gath. He was included in the Oxford Anthology of Poets 2013, was a mentee on the Clydebuilt programme and short-listed for the Scottish Booktrust New Writer's Award for poetry in 2016.

More poems by this author: