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.
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.