‘I’ve never met before, she’s lighting up the shelter like an angel in a holy grotto’
I Like Your Hat
By Magi Gibson
Published by Luath Press
At the bus stop where the wind’s trying
to kill us, slicing in like a scimitar from Siberia,
a tiny woman is wearing a colourful velvet beret.
She’s so small, I see each segment of its circle
sitting on her head like the wheel
of a stained glass window: emerald, sapphire,
saffron, indigo, amber, red. She beams
when I say it’s beautiful, tells me its story;
a gift from her daughter years ago,
she deemed it too bright, too loud,
stuffed it in a drawer, out of sight.
And now, her daughter’s dead.
Years later, the bus stop on St Vincent Street,
maybe it’s the same wind, slicing in
from Siberia, snow and ice spitting
through its sharpened teeth,
a young woman says, ‘I love your hat!’
It’s a beret of sorts. Mulberry wool.
‘Well cool,’ she says. ‘Unusual.’
‘It’s from a charity shop,’ I reply.
Then she admires my scarf. Hand-woven
in India. Fairtrade. And while the bus
doesn’t come, we talk recycling, pollution,
climate change, and I see she’s carrying
an art portfolio under one arm, while
on her shoulders she bears the future
of the world. And I swear her smile’s
so beautiful, this student girl
I’ve never met before, she’s lighting up
the shelter like an angel in a holy grotto
as all around the drear November dusk
descends black as the wings of ravens.
And the glow from her face warms me
more than my woollen kind-of-beret
or my hand-woven Fairtrade scarf or best
thermal underwear from Marks & Spencer,
or my specially lined duvet coat as worn
by explorers to far Antarctica
guaranteed to keep me warm at minus fifty
in a hurricane. And as we chat I recall
the tiny lady’s velvet beret, its jewelled
wheel of colours, and her sadness as she said
she wore it now to please her daughter,
who is dead. And all the while the darkness
deepens as if the sky is leaking sin
and the east wind with its icy breath
from Siberia does its best to kill us
and cut like a scimitar
through the warmth
of our common humanity.
Underneath the No Waiting
At Any Time sign
where a homeless man’s been dossing
in a doorway, someone
has scrawled in white chalk
I CAN SEE INTO YOUR SOUL.
A thought that stalks me
dogged as my own shadow
onto Great Western Road,
past the kebab shop, and the
graffiti-scratched bus stop,
where a drunk is singing
obscenities into the cold ear
of the east wind. I can see
into your soul… seven syllables
that susurrate softly at the fringes
of my consciousness, fluttering
like the soft white wings
of the guardian angel I stopped
believing in when I was eight,
haunting me with whispers
of afterlife and sin and lost souls
with no place to sleep at night. So
when three Jehovah’s Witnesses
in the fading winter light offer me
Watchtowers with a sprinkling
of eschatological warnings
at the side door of Òran Mór,
I think maybe it will free me
of the strangeness of it all if I pass
the Good News on that up around
the corner in a dead end street
where No Waiting is Permitted
for All Eternity, there’s a down-and-out
dossing on cardboard in a doorway
who can see into their Immortal Souls –
when from the frozen branches
of a black-boughed tree
at the red-amber-green lights
where four roads meet and
the traffic roar stops starts stops,
and you can hardly hear the pound
of your own heartbeat, the song
of a blackbird rises into the city dusk
scattering sparks of stardust
like a tiny resurrection.
in the packed department store,
shoppers laden like Sherpas
trek through forests
of synthetic trees,
wade through drifts
of special offers.
in the midst of this throng
under twinkling tinfoil stars
she wanders alone
on sandalled feet
buttoned up all wrong
perched upon her unbrushed hair
a crown of tinsel thorn.
crowds part before her
like a red sea miracle.
she floats by on a cloud
of cheap whisky.
while her voice soars above
the festive ringing of cash registers.
a fallen angel singing
in the bleak midwinter.
I Like Your Hat by Magi Gibson is published by Luath Press, priced £8.99.