Ross Thompson is a writer from Bangor, County Down. He teaches English and reads regularly at literary events across Northern Ireland. His poems have been published with The Honest Ulsterman, FourXFour, The Gown, The Classical Association of Northern Ireland and Be Not Afraid. His work is largely informed by recurrent themes: family, the power of memory, the fragility of human life, and broken relationships. Each of his poems is imbued with one part comedy and two parts tragedy.
Ross was the overall winner of the FSNI National Poetry Competition for his poem ‘Icarus’, which conflated mythological tropes with the 1971 Soyusz space disaster, and he now acts as a judge with this contest.
Ross’s pamphlet, ‘Slumberland’, a sequence of poems inspired by dreams, nightmares, insomnia and somnambulism, was published by Pen Points Press in 2014. He most recently recorded three pieces for Happy Holidays, an album by The Grand Gestures, a collective of Scottish musicians and artists. He was also the winner of the County Down heat of the 2015 All Ireland Poetry Slam.
Ross is currently working on various projects: a collaboration with Bangor visual artists; a broadside called Slow Theft, a full length collection, tentatively entitled Old Haunts; and he has just completed his first novel, The Absence Of Grief.
My older sister shared the world with me:
chickenpox, mumps, corduroy dungarees
and a blue and yellow bike, sprung saddle,
crossbar in the wrong place, dainty wee bell
you could flick with your thumb. But her tongue
was wild and sharp. She got that from our Mum.
Helen said I was a whoops!, a mistake,
so I tied her to a tree, let her bake
one roasting June afternoon. “Like cowboys
do to Injuns,” I said, then went to Roy’s
to buy comics and a bag of cherries.
When I came back she was red as sherry
and just as sour. She screamed down the garden
where Dad taught me how to ride. Knees hardened,
elbows scuffed useless from countless tumbles,
but he held the seat post while I fumbled
and fussed. “Don’t look back,” he said. I did not,
scared I’d turn into a pillar of salt.
“I won’t let go,” he said – and then he did.
I zoomed down the street and across the bridge
into the wild, blue Bangor. I never
looked back. Now I do. The chain was severed
but the wheels still spun. Back over the hill,
turning clear in the evening sun, the shrill
squeal of brakes found Dad at the gate. The sight
of a bike with no rider. He muttered
something about keeping holding on tight;
something about a pair of bolt cutters.
My father has never eaten an apple.
He has tamed lions and taught bears to waltz,
hustled poker sharks in opium dens,
scooped marlin from the Indo-Pacific
but he has never eaten an apple.
He has never tasted sour skin give way
to sweet flesh beneath his teeth like frozen
twigs on a forest floor. He has tied snakes
in knots, juggled sabres, moonwalked barefoot
over smouldering coals, chased tornadoes,
abseiled down the faces of Mount Rushmore,
robbed at least two banks, been struck by lightning
but never, ever eaten an apple.
Never shone a pearl smooth curve on his thigh
nor twisted the stalk until it popped off
at a woman whose name begins with J.
He has drunk tiger blood, skinny-dipped
with Portuguese men-of-war, drawn sixguns
with cowboys, romanced opera singers
but never, he says, eaten an apple.
And he has never owned a pair of jeans.