To Willie Emslie

TO WILLIE EMSLIE

by Peter Campbell

Winner of the Martha Robinson Poetry Competition 2002


You had that blown fuse look.

A straight-ahead stare, hands hooked.

The extra pyramidals.

Out in the annexe, plugged in by the door,

You played without flair Chuck Berry at our socials.

One guitar, one amp.

The annexe crammed.

Always Memphis, heavy on base,

Drowning the thump of our suedes.

You always stood, after each turn,

Running a hand over your smooth face.

Rocking, but not to the music.

Did you ride out the bad times, William?

Did you ever come back.

To push the wee bit smiles into our gobs.

Did you get to be a farmer, running the grain

Through your big arms, yellow as yon jumper?

Did you ever play the Logierait Hotel on Saturdays

And make the women dance?

In London town I’ve done no better.

Maybe worse.

A home by a station, the sounds of travel

Fading from ears. A few verses

Against the professionals.

An apt response, a burst of applause.

Some games in the park while the keepers

Were looking elsewhere.

We should have made the nurses jump

When we were young and decades were left.

I should have shouted for you not smiled against.

Because I was better, because their tests

Gave me more pinholes rather than less.

They cut us up allright, Willie.

And memory can only make the best of it.

Divided from each other, divided from ourselves.

No revolutions, no laughter in the losers’ camp.

Only a hand rubbing across our faces

And Chuck Berry’s Memphis played on one amp.