5 Poems by Ross Thompson

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    Ross Thompson is a writer from Bangor, Northern Ireland. His work appears or is forthcoming in publications such as The Honest UlstermanOneThe Island ReviewThe Freshwater ReviewThe Wild WordPopshot and Memory House.  His poem ‘Postscripts’ is included in The Poetry Jukebox installation at the Crescent Arts Centre, and he contributed to three pieces to Happy Holidays, an album by The Grand Gestures – a collective of Scottish musicians and artists. Most recently, Ross was shortlisted for The Seamus Heaney New Writing Award, placed joint runner-up in the Mairtín Crawford Award, and read ‘The Slipping Forecast’ on the BBC for The Arts Show. He was also commissioned by NI Screen to write a poetic sequence for the ‘Coast To Coast’ project.

     

    Burn Sweet Blood

    Years ago, when summers were powerful hot
    and lasted for a clean eternity,

    the boys from my block took our bicycles
    to a dilapidated house rumoured

    to be haunted by a crazy woman
    with sharpened knitting needles for fingers.

    Then, summers were sweet as communion wine,
    and ripe with possibility. The best

    of these was when we camped on sunburnt grass
    and watched a thin line of fire scampering

    along the horizon like a naughty
    fox: our local shopping centre slowly

    consumed by flames set by a cigarette
    carelessly left near to a storage shed.

    So many shops, stock and jobs gone to hell.
    We pricked our thumbs and swore we would not tell.

     

    I Fought The Law

    And how about that time you ran into an old friend
    in the decrepit Students’ Union, when,
    fifteen years after your last parting, he asked
    for a catch-up over a few pints of draught

    and as many frames of pool as your purse
    would allow. You met him in the concourse
    between the mini-market and the gym.
    “Come on,” he said. The drinks were on him.

    He necked Glenfiddich while you, still teetotal,
    stuck to Coke and Dr. Pepper. Your chat was anecdotal:
    “Mind how in the ghost house we saw a pair of figures
    who were just our own likeness returned by a mirror?”

    He racked the balls for another game, excused
    himself and left. Right on cue, a pair of tattooed
    security guards took his place at the baize.
    “Think you’re smart then, eh?” the bigger one said.

    I kept my powder dry. I pleaded ignorance.
    “Aye, son, what’s this?” he said. “What’s this?” and advanced
    a ring-pull from the coin slot, wedged in tight
    in lieu of coins to blag free goes for the whole night.

    Frogmarched from the hall, they grilled me for the truth
    in a nicotine-scented security booth
    in full view of the crowded mezzanine
    but my old friend was nowhere to be seen.

    Threads

    Mid 1980s, and I spend most days
    petrified by the threat of the world’s end:
    a vision of a thin, quicksilver blade,
    powered by fission, tapering from white flames,

    hanging in the sky, drawing a thick line
    across pitched triangular rooftops
    of red brick detached houses just like mine,
    and the shimmering smiles of high street shops

    ready to spit out melting mannequins
    through molten glass as a shockwave flattens
    every town dotted along the Ulster Way.
    I am a very timid child. Most days

    pulse with Soviet fear of the whole sphere
    being cleared of all living things apart
    from one: the nuclear fug disappears,
    and I am left behind on a razed earth

    with no hope of picking up the loose threads.

     

    Invasion

    Breaking all codes of transgress, you sidled
    through the hedge, your breath dampening the cloth
    of your balaclava. A moonlit field
    of expectant wheat bowed before your feet.

    You trod softly, carefully. Parallel
    tractor tracks provided a path without
    a record of your trespass. Carrying
    planks, rope and spade, you slunk to the centre

    of purring grain, following the steps mapped
    out on a detailed scale drawing on graph
    paper: a geometric curlicue
    of plumb lines and saucer shapes.

    You set to work, marking out the design
    by laying out tools on top of the crops
    then pressing them with your feet so the field
    yielded to the diagram imprinted

    on your mind’s eye. When you were done, first light
    illuminated dew on broken grass
    as a warning to make your way back home.
    The following day, the local paper

    reported strange overnight occurrences
    with pictorial proof: a bamboozled
    farmer standing in a circular brand
    of dead wheat, shoulders raised in disbelief.

    Blue Lamp Disco

    The assembly hall was all biz the day
    the police came to talk to us about drugs.
    The boys called a ceasefire on their scarf fight
    re: Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran,
    and the girls quit their handstand contest
    to come inside to sit in neat bean rows,
    tempted by the prospect of a disco.
    A policeman shaped like a lower case b
    warned you of the dangers of cigarettes,
    alcohol and someone called Mary Jane –
    she must have attended a different school.
    After the ganching, one of the other
    chaps in uniform pushed a big button
    and a double punch drum machine whammy
    of Falco and Baltimora juddered
    cups of diluted juice as we ventured
    our best imitation of the moonwalk,
    lawnmower and cabbage patch. Everyone
    danced as if their lives depended on it.
    Everyone, that is, except that lonely
    boy whose birthday party you attended
    two years before – you bought him a Batman
    doll and got sugar-spangled on top hats
    and Coca Cola but he retreated
    to the corner and cried for his mother.
    Years after, he ran away from the town’s
    gladiatorial grammar, eloping
    to England that summer with an online
    lover, much older. The police visited
    again. They delivered a stern warning
    about a different danger. No dancing,
    no drum machines and no synthesisers.

     

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