Mark Russell

Seven Ways


i Backwards


I will stay with you, the giant who wasn’t a giant said

     at your home     at mine     in the sea    

     for the duration of our short walks along the cliffs

I would like to touch you, touch your down and tissue

     if only we weren’t giants     we aren’t giants    

     each cell     at your home     at mine

I would have touched you, if we had been younger

     admitted our attraction     let go our watching

     a touch     a small gesture     at mine     or yours


I am returned from the war, the giant who wasn’t a giant said

     how the city has changed     blackouts     betrayals

     we seek vengeance     vengeance is ours     is not

I have revisited the black nights, the distant shells

     listen to the newscaster     her tender vowels

     watch her touch an audience     surrender    

I did not visit the brothel, on foot or bicycle

     our lives propelled     here     on the heath    

     we know it is true     pyrotechnics     we think it so    


our elderly selves wear our divorces and fine threads

we masquerade before the deaths of our loved ones



ii En Masse


You enter high society pale and thin like a sea breeze

     unmarried     with some learning     hatched

     eating nothing but mushrooms     a niece     not a niece

You send emails to the newspapers, pose as a mother

     libertine     buoyed by grief     false in your indifference

     prostrate in the confessional     gain a man     lose him

You move to Eastern Europe, take your pencils

     captured     dismissed     undone by departures

     see the borderlands     dense forest     mark them with fire


You know of touch only by its absence, you said it twice

     happy to know    unguarded      in agreements     not so

     done with the lot of them     a whisper of begging

You ask for Tippex, a kind word, a different flame

     you understand     random suffering     the permissions

     reportage renewed     engage a barmaid     dump her

You want the girls to love you, every day say-so, or men

     missions     the memory of salt-flesh     demands and answers

     wearing boots with studs     forgotten robes     a plunge


we are saddled and ridden like the dead horses of Aintree

our replies are made into gifs and posted on the internet



iii While in the Dock


I give in to boredom, charge you rent to buy groceries

     learn forgiveness     change the locks     sleep alone

     feel a sharp distress     moisturise my rough skin    

I offer lodging to children who pass by our window

     sing Welsh hymns     reach into you     mention motive

     inhale the rotting flowers you keep     undress my conceit

I show cruelty to your nephew, throw him onto the street

     rescue is provocation     jealousy becomes us

     our robes     forms of maturity     our means


I mention wanting, I mention conversation

     sit in the dark     go for drives     unhook our buckles

     our fingers     only in a dream     redeem it

I straighten your tie when the illness turns

     sneak out at night     climb our deer-infested hills

     discovery is simple     we crave complication    

I play you a pop song picked from the lunch menu

     furious lies     broken toes     mystery pillows

     suspicions layered     a bog under a bridge    


we buy a chorus of models to place on the bedside table

our business is with controversy and restless substitutions



iv Reading


You describe a weekend in downtown Osaka, before the army officer

     a lick     something tasting of faith     summer swans

     an uttering     limbs     organs     a nib of names

You set down your hard-won cards and kneel before him

     it wasn’t true     it isn’t true     it happened

     our greetings now are warm     it was an alley     steam rose

You knew it was late, you said it was too late to call

     a fakery of owls    a novel by Balzac     a harbour of kitchens

     fat like a lawyer     failed like a philosophy     a mirror and drama


You pour scorn on sons, the ones who stay at home to play

     princess at the party     frantic with the city’s coffee houses

     a stroke of feathers    a brevity of sadness     uncoupled

You call to cancel your engagements, the ones we ridiculed

     a daredevil     her pedantic lover     it happens

     brioche in the shape of violins     tears     worse when it arrives

You are a visitor, a new member of the skiing club

     some deviations     guests concealed     guests who refuse to sing

     cheek to the snow     sun     the flame of ice


we ignore our friends to recount the incidents on the train

our stories convince us to pause for a moment


v In Wartime


We build a house near the sea with no bedrooms

     friends move to the base     sleep a circle of connections

     slow marches     street performers    

We note the colours of autumn, rest on its strands

     when these things tend to happen     one hand near the other

     a string pulled     a secret contact     an eyelash     a thumb

We release breath, suck it into our bodies

     a mechanism for crying out     visits to husbands

     lying to your pupils     a woman in red     her mentees


We seek medical help in hopeless places, we agree

     shake with blind optimisms     wave light-sticks    

     in salons     suppurating     persuading grandma

We put down your caustic mistress, mine, wipe our hands

     leave compounds     search the wards     reach for soap

     ignore the misery of her deaths     celebrate    

We lean into the wind, depend on our hats to protect us

     finger the aristocrat     her valet     despair at their gossiping

     discuss lineage     find a prayer for non-believers


we are told via social media that invitations are in the post

our acceptance brings nothing but sickness and memories



vi On Normandy Beaches

I intervene at dinner, lunch, and sometimes at breakfast

     I am a fugitive diplomat     show you my second drafts    

     just one touch     no pressure to talk     benign probing

I have only to turn myself off, my eyes, my admonished disguise

     through a vocoder     a distortion-chin     gospel choir

     fantasy in three acts     play like a former folk act    

I will lay down on any flower you draw, be its impression

     admire protests     each hostess as she sweeps

     quarrel     leave affections     smoke with artists


I contemplate never seeing you again, watching you bathe

     the flavours     the spies paid up in full     unopened letters

     the train, again the train     reassembling passers-by

I commit to joining, and one last brush with drunkenness

     look at the teenage girls     their dandies and popinjays

     the ruffles     one blond-haired boulevardier with popcorn

I need nothing, I need nothing but your awkwardness

     recite the Latin     give in to the farmer’s son     I did

     walk with infatuation     hold me     my weight


our bellboys give out keys to the paparazzi who hide in the shower

we welcome the intrusion because summer has now been ruined



vii Looking Up


You stay with me all night, we eat cake, we are not giants

     dvd in laptop     rare condensation     raw fish

     cravings for more eggs     more sugar     a repeat prescription

We remember things that have never happened, not to us

     a servile girl in a field     a sword     uneducated possessions

     unstable ambitions     ex-lovers in church     perfunctory orgasms

I am careless with your well-to-do brothers, let them stand in the rain

     introduce them to actresses     change the road signs         

     steal their satellite navigation devices     compose each a cantata


We remember things that have happened, to us and to everybody

     rude company     autocratic receptionists     crooked steeples

     symbols misinterpreted     scornful academics     polite landlords

You wake from a scene in which sailors are home and want to dance

     we have aged     you wear a pendant     the guests fall silent

     slowly the swing     a jitterbug     a Lindy hop

I remember things I thought I had sent to the fires

     open position     fond scent of sweat     the shorter phrase

     marvels     marbles     somebody in a scarf saying yes


our lies round us up and hang us in the square

our private renewals may preserve us

Mark Russell’s publications include Shopping for Punks (Hesterglock), and Spearmint & Rescue (Pindrop). Other poems have appeared recently in Shearsman, Butcher’s Dog, Blackbox Manifold, The Scores, and elsewhere.use).