over Riddrie the clouds piled up,
dragged their rain through the cemetery trees.
The gates shone cold. Wind rose flaring the hissing leaves,
the branches swung, heavy, across the lamps.
Gravestones huddled in drizzling shadow,
flickering streetlight scanned the requiescats,
a name and an urn, a date, a dove picked out, lost, half regained.
What is this dripping wreath, blown from its grave red, white, blue and gold
'To Our Leader of Thirty years Ago'
in dark suits, with flutes and drums,
they brought him here, in procession seriously,
King Billy of Brigton, dead, from Bridgeton Cross:
a memory of violence, brooding days of empty bellies,
billiard smoke and a sour pint,
boots or fists, famous sherrickings, the word, the scuffle,
the flash, the shout, bloody crumpling in the close,
bricks for papish windows, get the Conks next time,
the Conks ambush the Billy Boys, the Billy Boys the Conks
till Sillitoe scuffs the razor down the stank -
No, but it isn't the violence they remember
but the legend of a violent man born poor,
gang-leader in the bad times of idleness and boredom,
lost in better days, a bouncer in a betting club,
a quiet man at last, dying alone in Bridgeton in a box bed.
So a thousand people stopped traffic for the hearse of a folk hero
and the flutes threw 'Onward Christian Soldiers' to the winds
from unironic lips, the mourners kept in step, and there were some who wept
Go from the grave. The shrill flutes are silent, the march dispersed.
Deplore what is to be deplored, and then find out the rest.
A poem about the gang leader
of the Brigton Billy Boys.