Ross Thompson is a writer from Bangor, Northern Ireland. His work appears or is forthcoming in publications such as The Honest Ulsterman, One, The Island Review, The Freshwater Review, The Wild Word, Popshot 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.
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.
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.