Ross Wilson’s The Heavy Bag

Ross Wilson was born in 1978 and raised in Kelty, a former mining village in west Fife. He has written three novels, reviewed for Books in Canada and co-edited Almost an Island: A New Anthology of Fife Writings. He recently worked with a team of writers on The Happy Lands, a feature film, in which he had an acting role. Awarded a Hawthornden Fellowship in 2004, his short stories and poems have appeared in many magazines and anthologies. A national schoolboy boxing champion and internationalist, he has worked in warehouses, factories, hotels, kitchens and various other places. His first collection, The Heavy Bag, was published in November 2011. It is available from the publisher, Calder Wood Press, at £5 plus postage.

“This collection marks the emergence of a refeshing new voice in poetry. Some of his work explores subjects seldom, if ever, described in poems. He writes with great insight, characteristic honesty and a strong emotional involvement with people and their lives.”
(Amateur Boxing Club) 
Wee Barry was first – his first bout.
     Three rounds with a twelve year old double.
        Mirror images until
the glass shattered like a dream
     and reality battered his wee face red.
        Barry cried in the changing room:
ma nose hurts like hell!  
     Only a point in it,
Alec said,
        ye done well. 
Then there was Sean.
     Features ghosted with nerves,
        Sean flushed vomit and
seconds out, minutes later, was hit
     out of time. A wee one asked: did it hurt?
The pain
was several inches south of the blow.
     Sean didn’t bleed:
        blood bloomed his cheeks.
Lanky Colin jabbed and crossed, dangling
     danger on the end of two rods,
        a smug grin as each jab went in and in.
In the closing seconds a hook sank into
     his burger-Coke lined guts. Winded,
        he grappled a pummelling desperado, until
the bell sounded, sweet as his girl the night before.
     Colin won by a score:
        nineteen hits to four.
Next, John. A Scottish champion six years
     before nightlife blackened his eyes
        darker than any glove ever did.
Body hardened by Saughton’s gym,
     arms colourful as an exotic bird’s wings,
        rage carried him into the ring, through two
wild rounds into a third. Drained as a
     pint glass, a white towel fluttered
        to save him from himself.
Dean! Dean always broke the circle training –
     facing a mirror as the rest faced one another.
        I-pod in ear, unable to hear instruction,
Dean danced and vaulted the ropes!
     But a boot snagged and tumbled him
        and laughter bellowed around the ring.
It was hell for Dean after that. Pride punctured,
     body blows deflated the rest.
        And his record fell: four wins, now a loss.
Last: eighteen, unbeaten, Andy sat
     one a table staring at boots that run miles
        every night they don’t skip rope in a gym.
No one will fight him: too much power, skill.
     There are whispers of other countries;
        talk of a blue vest.
‘I’ve no passport,’
he told Alec.
        ‘Your passport’s talent n’ will.’
Weekends Alec drives a transit van full
    of bleeding noses, bruised ribs, battered egos.
        Sixty years old and so alive his breath
is a winter plume against a darkened windscreen.
     Half way cross-country tonight.
        Tomorrow: a roof with hammer and slate.
Alec smiles into a mirror full of boys
     sleepy with dreams or dreaming awake:
        the future is full of girls and fighting.
The Way John Went Out 
          In memory of John Gray 
I had you in my corner a few years,
talking me into, and through, pain.
Weekends, you’d take me into
Edinburgh and Glasgow to train;
mid-week, we worked out in Rosyth.
Days in-between, I ran alone.
We were about the same height then:
Five three, flyweights. I, fourteen, all bone,
you, a trim forty, fitter than anyone
in the gym, until I caught up, like time
caught us, six years later.
A six foot welterweight that day
we met, books tucked under what had been
a left hook, specs on a never broken nose.
I was awoken that day
like a brawler too clumsy to duck
the surprise counter of your news.
The best punches come from nowhere.
This one hit before we could begin.
A doctor stepped between us, waving it all off;
a timekeeper beat the slow count out of days
before a bell could ring.
And it was a daze to stumble into,
like those nights when I’d run alone
in the dark of a wood, no stool to rest on,
and no voice in the corner where I once stood
tired and bloodied with your hand
flying my hand like the kites
we were both high as, walking
down the steps of Meadowbank Stadium, 1993.
You came in with nothing,
you said to me, you went out a champion.
Anithir Season 
          In memory of Alec “Spangles” Hunter (1936 – 1995)
When they found Marciano’s body
strapped in the crashed plane seat,
someone said start counting, he’ll get up.
He always did, when he was down.
I remembered that story the day
Spangles went down.
A sweet tooth behind a bark:
thir’ll be no fuckin’ swearin in this gym!
A face marked by 626 fights.
At 59, he went down refereeing a bout
with no one to replace him to take up a count
that went by so fast we had our doubts
it was over.
That’s anithir season yeh’v wastit!
He’d say when I’d return to the gym
years after my last fight,
and with more appetite
for the atmosphere than the blows
that carved and cut and shaped him
like a pumpkin fired within.
Anithir season wastit
as though he thought I’d be back.
As though to say: he’s just resting.
I was young after all.
Now, I hit harder with the weight
time packs into a punch, and slower,
with energy that saps like the sweat
I watch drip away, wondering
what Spangles would say
about this new club full of women
and bairns and music – attitudes
shaped by the seasons he’s been gone.
His voice plays on – and old record
scratched and scored as his face,
and turning in my memory:
This isnae a fuckin’ youth club!
As if to say: this isn’t a game.
You don’t play boxing.
Months after the old club
was knocked down and out of existence
the headline read:
Final Round for Boxing Legend. 
That was 1995.
This is another country, another gym
with the same fighting spirit alive
in twelve year olds I watch spar
and prepare fir anithir season.
The ABC 2
James came and turned
away from a right cross
in pain and walked across
     the street for a bottle.
Craig put on two stone of muscle,
boxed a man naturally heavier than him
and discovered the truth in:
     there’s nowhere lonelier than the ring. 
Stewart had talent but lacked will,
won a few fights, missed nights
training, got a girl pregnant and
     no one knows where he went.
Graham went sixteen and two,
won a few district titles, a national,
boxed international and
     died inhaling aerosol.
Lesley was a tom-boy lesbo bitch
according to a few folk before
she learned to fight back and
     flattened Fat Mary on her back.
Alan wasn’t very good – he got better,
lost a few before he won,
never won much but
     got there.
All six were in the same year.
James is on the dole now.
Craig is a bouncer.
No one knows where Stewart is.
Graham is in Kirkford Cemetary.
Lesley is at the university.
And Alan runs the local ABC
     three nights a week.
from The Heavy Bag (Calder Wood Press, 2011).
Order The Heavy Bag.

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