A man I knew
who had always been employed
often snarled at a neighbour
who had never worked a day
in his life.
Neither have you, I once told him.
And it was true,
though he’d be the first
to tell you,
‘I’ve never been on the broo.’
Mother laid down the law –
don’t be selfish, don’t be greedy,
share all your toys.
Decades later, she cast
a new light on men and boys
exposing cracks in the clear line
she’d always drawn
between right and wrong.
A politician on TV, criticising the
‘something for nothing culture’
refused to answer
a question: ‘What’s your opinion
of corporate tax havens?’
Mother answered for him –
‘Well, it’s not against the law,
is it son?’
Lines were marked across the ring in early boxing matches in the days when a knockdown, not a bell,
concluded a round. If a pugilist could not "toe the line," or come “up to scratch," he was ruled Out of Time.
To deter members of opposing parties from attacking one another in the House of Commons two red lines
were marked, two sword-lengths apart, on the floor. MPs were and are expected to stand behind these lines
when a speech is in progress.
Emerging from Southwark Station,
looking for Tate Modern,
I imagined this area back when
bear-baiting and cock fighting were common,
and actors strutted their hour at the Globe.
Stumbling on The Ring Boxing Club,
I thought, how appropriate
a space to exhibit the noble art
should be so near the Tate.
Then, a second thought
that was more of a picture:
Two Ton Tony Galento, a boxer
from the thirties who trained on beer
and refused to shower weeks before
a fight; who, according to Max Baer,
stank “like rotten tuna and old liquor
sweated out;” who, when asked
what he thought of Shakespeare,
said, “I’ll moider da bum!”
A hairy bear of a man, Two Ton Tone
applied gouging, biting, butting, low blows
and kidney punching to what some
call the sweet science, others, the noble art.
In black and white footage of him
he brightens the screen like a cartoon.
The owner of a New Jersey saloon,
I saw him clearly in London
four hundred years ago, betting on
a chained bear versus dogs,
and toeing the line
men have always drawn in the grime.
He attacked his pal with a shovel
as if it were a sword.
It cracked against a palette-shield
that doubled as a weapon, blocking,
then ramming the shovel-wielding man
as a foreign tongue spat venom
and the shovel swung again.
It was two a.m.
They were fighting about overtime
one had stolen from the other.
I saw them in passing, on the way
to the transit van that would take me home.
They’d been bussed in from Glasgow:
Weeks later, on another factory floor,
I heard over the din of machines
in-between songs on the radio,
news of that other place
employing illegal immigrants.
Cunts ir stealin’ oor joabs,
a man along the line said.
Months later, we were laid off,
our work sent abroad,
our feet sent to the Job Centre.
I found work in a hotel
near the fault lines where
high and low lands meet.
The only Scot among East Europeans,
our staff block under conference rooms
where men in suits clicked pens.
ACROSS THE TRACKS
Across the border they’d be chavs.
Here, they’re neds, and almost proud,
as if to be a ned was to have a trade;
their shell suits overalls,
Buckfast bottles tools.
They drink by a stone in a park
near a railway station in the dark
unable to see what the stone’s
supposed to be, until a lighter reveals
words about a civil war in Spain.
Across the rails a memorial garden
is maintained for lives laid down
in the Great War for Civilisation
and all the wars that came
after civilisation was won.
Wiy’s this stane here, no there?
What made this war diffrint?
Ma pals pal wis killed in Afghanistan –
what stane will his name be oan?
Just then, headlights of a police van
across the road, hit them
like an interrogation light, bright
with questions of its own.
A voice called like a cue to act out
the role they’d been given.
Or the life they’d chosen,
depending on what side of the line
we choose to see them from.
Near a public library and museum,
art gallery and memorial garden,
across the tracks, on the steps
of the Adam Smith Theatre, a man
and woman exit Macbeth
as three boy-men run by a train
and enter a scene they’ve no part in.
Across the Tracks – This poem refers to the Spanish Civil War memorial in Kirkcaldy,
which happens to be a few minutes walk from where I live.