I was definitely typed, doomed
to be an exponent of evil:
each time I stepped into a room,
there was that still
expectation something wicked would be done,
until within the murk of winter,
without beam or glint of sun,
I found that kirk and entered
a hall where black coats clustered,
dark funereal hats loomed over pews,
and this old preacher in the pulpit mustered
just about enough strength to give the news
that human souls could rise again without the need
to bleed others dry and white.
I felt my cloak shrug off me then,
no longer seeking refuge within the gloom of night.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2015. Best Scottish Poems is an online publication, consisting of 20 poems chosen by a different editor each year, with comments by the editor and poets. It provides a personal overview of a year of Scottish poetry. The editor in 2015 was Ken MacLeod.
Part of a fine collection exploring the Isle of Lewis harbour town, and its long and remarkable history, this poem is one of those that step outside history. The only way Bela Lugosi was ever in Stornoway was on the screen. The church elders would have frowned on anyone watching his dark adventures. And yet the gloomiest church can be the venue for good news.
Among the real characters that people SY StorY: Portrait of Stornoway Harbour are a number of individuals that appear to have wandered into that locality in error. They include Marilyn Monroe, Rudolf Nureyev and James Cagney. Each reveals a different aspect of Hebridean life. Among this motley crew is the Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi, who played a series of villains, most notably Dracula, in his screen career. Unhappy in these roles, he once complained that he was 'definitely typed, doomed to be an exponent of evil'. In this poem, he visits the Stornoway Free Kirk of his era, filled with gaunt-faced worshippers dressed in Homburg hats and heavy coats. Within its walls, he experiences a religious conversion. From this point onwards, he is no longer forced – like his most famous creation – to sup on human blood to obtain eternal life.