Instead of a new poem today, I’ve decided to share an old one from 2014. Welshday is a project I shelved a few years ago, because I was getting nowhere with it. Basically, it was a kind of 21c mash-up of Joyce’s Ulysses, Thomas’s Under Milk Wood, and Dante’s Divine Comedy, but all very tongue-in-cheek. It was supposed to trace twenty-four hours of novelist Irvine Welsh wandering through the city of Edinburgh – I got in touch with him, to ask his permission to use him as a character, and he replied to the effect “What the hell, why not!” His companion – his version of Dante’s Virgil – is the drunkard policeman Detective Inspector Rimbaud, whom I imagined voiced by Alex Norton (DCI Matt Burke in the TV series Taggart). Fragments and even long passages of Welshday still exist, and the odd bit which could be a stand-alone poem. This is one of them. It’s a Sestina. Welsh and Rimbaud find themselves in a disreputable pub, where Welsh is cornered by a Russian sailor who claims to be the only survivor of the sinking of the submarine ‘Kursk’ in 2000…
Old Rimbaud said, “Let’s go and take a glass
of whiskey in a jostling pub I know.”
I, like a sodding numpty, dogged his steps,
And tracked him to a clapped-out, frowsy dive,
Where half the clientele were missing ears –
the other half were shouting to be heard!
We’d been there half an hour when I heard
a Russian sailor tap the falling glass;
he grabbed my sleeve, said “This is for your ears
alone, no other bugger has to know.
I heard my skipper calling dive-dive-dive,
as I slid down the conning-tower steps…”
Old Rimbaud, blootered, sunk down on the steps;
the Russian bellowed at me, to be heard.
“The air inside gets hotter when you dive,
the sea is slagged and dark as bottle-glass.
The ghost of every bugger that you know
floats by, and there’s a pounding in your ears!”
His sliding, slootered accent hurt my ears.
I thumbed my belt and slipped some salsa steps;
I said, “Now tell me something I don’t know,
no half-arsed, half-cocked tale already heard,
no shite enigma darkly in a glass,
no bonny buck-and-wing, no duck-and-dive!”
He scowled at me and, miming a crash-dive,
resumed the tale that battered at my ears,
while I, to ease my pain, sucked at my glass.
“Kolesnikov took all the proper steps,
and we went aft – perhaps you might have heard –
but when you’re frigging shark-bait, boy, you know!”
I shut him up, and said, “Here’s what I know –
no fucker made it home from that last dive –
They all asphyxiated, so I heard!”
He laughed, he jeered, I stopped my ringing ears,
and sat down with old Rimbaud on the steps,
to spit at all the demons in my glass.
When ghosts well from a glass you always know,
You’re sitting on the steps of some sad dive,
and though you stop your ears you’ll still have heard!
©Marie Marshall 2014