Two poems by Mark Russell

For Harry, Wilma & Queen George

The company assembles on home turf – The Dolphin.
One whisky, and dog tags to help us home.

Camel calls a taxi to take us to the start – The Britannia.
From here our orders are: pints of bitter only.

Wire gets a text in The Crown & Sceptre.
Goes AWOL for several hours.

Wilco is caught pouring his pint in a flower pot at The Nelson.
Downs three shots as penalty.

Rick has gruesome wind between Three Queens and The Imperial.
Downs six shots as penalty.

Wee Davie thinks he is hare to our tortoise in Churchill’s, The Royal and Trafalgar’s.
Makes it no further, relieved from active service.

During the eight-hotel parade on the Prom and the manoeuvre to The Raglan
we lose Wilco, Bilko, Twenty and Pig

but regain Wire, looking shell-shocked, in The Old Colonial.
He drinks one shot from every optic as penalty.

Trousers runs out of money in The Ex-Servicemen’s Club.
We leave him at the chip shop

without his trousers, as we always do, because it’s funny,
advance to The Khyber Pass, The Prince of Wales,

The King’s Head’s, The Victoria, and finally Hobbits,
where we drink like legionnaires and dance with girls.

I wake with Wire, who might be dead, in the bush behind The Dolphin,
ready to fight another day.
 
(published in Bliss, Templar, 2011)
 
 
A Curious Choice

We travelled for miles with our thumbs out,
a small bag slung over my shoulder
like a child in a sling.

We thought it a curious choice – that old man
listening to Genesis – his farm-boy smile
and judicial Oxbridge brogue.

We were young then, and would do it all again
tomorrow, peel off our sagging, soggy jeans
in a one-man tent in a Lyme Regis field;

or after, when it collapsed and swam
down the hill with our belongings,
us laughing in the leaking canvas;

or after we tossed our final pieces of silver
for a backstreet room or sausage and beans,
and slept well-fed among lifeless deckchairs.

I still smell the moisture our bodies made.
It clings to clothes like a crying baby.
It doesn’t wash off. It won’t go away.
 
(published in West Coast Magazine, Glasgow, 1994)
 
 
 
Mark Russell has published Saturday Morning Pictures (Red Ceilings Press, 2015), and Pursued by Well-being (tall-lighthouse, 2013). His poetry, vispo and asemic writing have also appeared in Tears in the Fence, The Rialto, The Interpreter’s House, Bare Fiction, Otoliths, and elsewhere. He is taking part in this year’s StAnza Festival, details here.

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