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Mark Russell: four poems



Poor Weather


When Suki said Paul Weller was on his way and would be in Glasgow tonight, we rushed out to buy tickets. "Paul Weller is coming!" we said to the passengers on the number 87 bus. When we got off at the station, several of them jumped on the train with us. They texted their friends and family, who met them in Partick. We marched to Finnieston, stopping in shops to buy souvenirs, collecting members of the public as we went. The wind got up and a few young girls lost their hats, but they didn't seem to mind. The rain began to lash us. Nobody had planned for the trip, so few had waterproofs and were soaked through to the skin. "They say he'll be here all night and may stay until lunchtime tomorrow!" Suki told the hundreds of people now following us, and they cheered. We neared the Exhibition Centre. A television news crew approached us on the bridge over the expressway. They wanted updates. A team of local rugby players picked up the crew and carried them on their shoulders to the box office. The MP and the MSP for the constituency were both waiting for us. They were from the same party but argued over the lyrics of "Going Underground". "Open up!" Suki cried, when we discovered the whole place locked and empty. The crowd began to bang the shutters and windows with their fists and feet. After a few hours, a fleet of food and drink vans pulled up in the car park to supply us with fuel to get us through the night. Groups of twenty or thirty took it in turns to batter the building. Somebody hired a sound system to entertain us, but the storm was relentless and caused it to explode. Little fires spread through the crowd, some more serious than others. "Look what you've done," I said to Suki. She ran up to the door and struck it one last time before collapsing with exhaustion. The crowd converged upon her. She was defeated. As the sun began to rise, they drifted away wringing their hair and shuffling with fatigue against the deluge. "I was so sure," she said. "How did I get it so wrong?"


Sing


Piano Katie & Costume Katie are already there, as is Andy, Jain, Tracs, and Jobats. Jayne arrives with Diane and some tall guy with a moustache, and then Phil, Caroline, Andrea, and Keef show up. Derrick is sorry he can't make it, and Anne isn't there either, which is a shame. Everybody is rehearsing some show or other. There's no part for me, so I sanitise the tables ready for the after show party. A current student comes into the rehearsal room and calls me over. I wipe my hands on my apron. She waves some papers and asks if I can help her with her essay. I say that I'm not a lecturer, that she's probably thinking of Lew, and that he has retired to live it up on the coast near Formby, but she's adamant. She points to the tutor's remark at the end. It says, "How can we reconcile the character of Spring with the lack of Spring in 1988?" I say that as far as I know there is no character named Spring in Shakespeare, nor in any other play by any other playwright that I can recollect. She laughs and says it's a joke. Come on, it's just a joke, she says. The others stop to listen. Andy picks up his bass and Piano Katie sits at a stool by the upright. Soon, everybody is singing. It's well known that I can't hold a tune. Diane begins to choreograph a little routine. It's well known that I can't dance. Sing, the young student cries. The others join her. Sing and dance, you bastard, they sing, as if ululating at a funeral. I say that I was out of the country in 1988. They take no notice. They are writing a new show. It has to go on.


Therapy


My favourite therapist is confused. Perhaps that's why "Two Little Boys" by Rolf Harris is playing softly through the room's PA. She looks at her notes and asks me why I'm "kaned" in my dreams. She spells it out and chews her lip. I know instantly what the problem is and tell her she has transposed the "k" and the "n". She crosses it out and curses AutoCorrect. She takes a deep breath and asks me why I think I am naked in my dreams. I look at my bare thighs and say that I'm naked even now. She mutters something about "kaned" not even being a real word and takes a sip of water. She asks me if I've ever been caned, perhaps as a child. I feel a rush of cold air over my back and neck and say that all the little boys at my prep school were caned, or had at least desired to be caned as a matter of honour. She harrumphs, writes in her logbook, and asks if I'd like to be caned as an adult. I rub my hands to generate some heat and say I don't think she's being very helpful and can she turn the music off. She rises, rips a tapestry from the wall, and throws it at me. It's an Aztec design made of jute, with a mango wood pole. It barely covers my shoulders. I ask if I can go to the toilet. She sits down, re-opens her logbook, and says that once we get to the truth she'll consider it.


Zebra


We're in the Town Hall for our school leavers' disco. It's late. I'm drunk and high. I've just slow-danced with Amanda, crooning 10CC's "I'm Not In Love" in her ear, not realising what a misjudgement that is. I need a fag and rethink. Outside, I hear somebody singing "I a-hi-hi, a-hi-hi, dig a pony". Rick comes around the corner with a pot of white paint, a paintbrush, and a donkey on a rope. You've stolen a donkey from the beach, I say. His eyes aren't focussing on me, but he smiles. He starts to paint white lines down the donkey's flanks. I need to get my Abbey Road photo before we leave, he says. They'll kill you, I say. I think I look like Paul McCartney, he says. Don't I? I look like Paul McCartney, don't I? I hope that's a water-based paint, I say. Wait, he says. He takes his shoes and socks off. That's better, he says, and tries to climb onto the donkey's back. Give me a hand, he says. I push him up and the donkey's paint smears him with zigzaggy lines until he's mounted and still. Take a picture, he says. I compose a series of shots. Do you want the floral clock in the background, or the police station, I say. I start to make clicking noises with my tongue against the roof of my mouth. It's then he notices I don't have a camera. Go find Linda, he says. Linda who, I say. My wife! he says. Go find Linda! I try to tell him he's got everything mixed up, but the donkey starts to walk away, turning down Oxford Street, toward the sands. One day we'll look back on this with great affection, he calls out, somewhat distantly now, aching with the echo and reverb of a seaside night.



Mark Russell has published two full collections and five pamphlets, the latest being o (the book of gatherings) with Red Ceilings. He won the 2020 Magma Poetry Judge’s Prize, and his poems have appeared in Stand, Shearsman, The Manchester Review, Tears in the Fence, Poetry Birmingham Literary Journal, One Hand Clapping, Blackbox Manifold, and elsewhere.

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