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Mark Russell: three poems

The Red-Haired Man

A red-haired man was breathing deeply outside the door. I could see his shoulders slowly rise and fall through the opaque roses of our stained glass window. "Who is it?" my wife called. I opened the door. He rolled his head, tensed and released his fists, and then was still. "I've come to read your meter", he said, showing me his lanyard. It displayed the logo of the electricity company. "Are you all right?" I said. "I'm just enjoying these last few moments", he said. I let him in and showed him to the hall cupboard. "What do you mean?" I said, but he was busy getting onto his knees and searching for a torch in his overalls. My wife came out of the study where we keep books and hide our youthful mistakes from the children. "What's he doing down there?" she said. "The meter's in the kitchen." She began to drag him by the feet through the hall. We'd recently laid high quality wood flooring, and this helped her considerably. "In there." She pointed to the pantry. The red-haired man shone his torch, took his reading and stood. My wife lightly brushed the front of his overalls with her fingertips. "Thank you", he said. I followed him to the door. "Help me", I said.


In Custody

I was on my way into Asda to do the weekly shop when a man in a plastic visor stopped me. He pointed a small, white, gun-like instrument at my forehead, just above my left eye. Its thin red ray startled me. "You're positive", he said. He stood in the doorway and crossed his arms. On my way back to the car park I met my father. "Dad, when were you resurrected?" He slipped a carrier bag full of supplies into my hand. "There's no time for that", he said. "Stay here. I'll nip back in and get you some cauliflowers." He moved so swiftly I had no time to remind him how much I disliked brassicas. He had slimmed down; he looked so young. Two policemen ambled toward me. "We have a report", one of them said. "Must you act on it right now?" I asked him. His colleague adjusted his mask and asked me to get in their car. "But my father", I said. "Leave him be", the first officer said. "He doesn't need your negativity at the moment." It was true. I couldn't argue with him. I was both positive and negative at the same time. I got in the car and wondered if I'd ever see my father again.


A Revenger's Tragedy

It was coming to the end of term. Staff and students were tired and irascible. Philippe Silverstein summed it up when he broke into the janitor's shed to borrow a hammer. "Look", he said. "I don't even need it!" He held it limply, demonstrating he was not much of a handyman, then threw it at the photocopier. A few of us said that he was going too far. He asked Layla for a loan of her right high-heeled shoe. We weren't sure why it needed to be the right one, but she handed it over. Philippe took a nail from the drawer and bashed it into the wall with Layla's shoe. She sighed and took off her left shoe. "I have some marking to do", she said, and left, her soft steps entrancing us. Philippe opened the cupboard under the sink and produced his cheap reproduction of Jacques-Louis David's The Death of Marat. "And this!" he said. "This! It means nothing!" A couple of us recalled Phillipe's brief relationship with Simone Haldane, the ex-Chemistry teacher, after the Christmas disco of 2009, but we said nothing. Philippe tried to hang the picture on the nail, but it kept slipping off. "Come on, Phil", the Headteacher said. "Put the picture back." Philippe sat down and stared at the ceiling. "You can try again tomorrow."

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, Blackbox Manifold, and elsewhere.

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