The only sounds from doorsteps now
are occasional knocks, slams.
Once, names of bairns
were roared from steps by mums
when night dissolved the light
we played in down by the burn,
up Blairadam, over the quarry.
I stank like a dug, my dad has said.
How I smell that scent rising
into my nostrils now –
bracken, pine, grass, leaves, sap, sweat,
dog shit. Yet so much fresh air
filled our nostrils then, we were higher
than the grown-ups we played beneath.
for Keith Mitchell
I know Keith is in because the drunks
congregating by the wine shop
beneath his flat are pointing and shouting at
the wide open window and speaker
positioned on the sill blasting Wagner
down upon them like boiling oil
pouring from a castle turret into their ears –
the artist under siege in his ivory tower!
I let myself in and manoeuvre around
canvases rolled, framed, stacked in a hall
like a production line managed by a Bohemian,
each painting uniquely its own.
The sun spotlights an easel set up
in the living room where Keith
is busy painting Columbo
and the Crucifixion.
It’s upside down, I tell him,
as if that’s news to him.
It’s easier to paint that way, he tells me.
YIR MUSIC’S SHITE! they tell us, so
Keith cranks the volume and shows me
a bust he sculpted out of chocolate.
I call it Chocolate David Icke, he says,
reaching for a bottle of Johnnie Walker.
In cafés and bars I’ve been taken as his carer
when his dandy garb and arty gub
rub locals the wrong way and rip
eyelids from faces that sway
back from his presence like a punch.
When asked where he’s from – Kelty –
people tell him:
Ir ye fuck!
But in his studio-flat or gallery,
where they can see the evidence
of what he does, of who he is,
mouths shut, eyes open,
YouTubing John Coltrane,
Keith pours a dram, explains:
I make sense in this context.
Ross Wilson was raised in Fife, Scotland. His poems have appeared in Edinburgh Review, Poetry Salzburg Review and The Honest Ulsterman , among others. His pamphlet The Heavy Bag was published by Calder Wood Press and his first full collection will be published by Smokestack Books in 2018.
Image credit: Keith Richards Mitchell