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Two poems.

By JAMES RUSSELL.

Build me up Buttercup

Hard and hollow: cockroach nation on the kitchen floor
clatter and gone

High and dim: the mindful eye of the fat nurse who turned on
the light

Hard and hollow: the fat nurse administering all day then
out to the buses on the East Lancs Road in her black
private costume

High and dim: to struggle to get the head around “blu-ray”

Hard and hollow: the car flesh of a retirement complex
cold flanks on a day of sun, a door slams
for Easter

High and dim: to look in the mirror on a Friday night a little
drunk and to know that everything has two faces not
one or three but two, nodules in a house of cards
not wanting wings or a dove

Hard and hollow: not the clenched subservient daffodils but
the wind mastering them

High and dim: ambition in its purest form, a room
full of hexagrams

Hard and hollow: that Lincolnshire farmer he will hear
the rattling of the daffodils as coinage not
as pub-singing pixies

High and dim: to walk down to The Broad from Keble
crew-cutted in badly-dyed jeans not wanting
this to grow at all

Hard and hollow: greasy children

High and dim: impossible claims

Hard and hollow: the train manager happy
to take you through ticketing complexities
three musketeers facial hair snapdragon
charm

High and dim: the quiet couple in the conference bar before
the delegates riot in from plenary

Hard and hollow: William James’ cool bonhomie

High and dim: his brother’s paragraphs yielding up and
yielding up never suckable back to clear ice

Hard and hollow: still air in a country park Sunday afternoon
in Spring, the manufactured valley even toddlers knowing
it is the valley of death

High and dim: the 3.15 awakening at 4.15 failure
even to sleep

Hard and dim hollow and high:
such lank hair she was there
at Walthamstow brought down by psychology, long and lank
hair no you would not call it a lock — fat ribbon —
constantly tucked behind the ear then plucked out quickly
and again and one’s wish or hysterical longing for her to run it under
her nose Fu-Manchu-style and for her then to laugh

head bowed over someone’s attempt to fill in a form already
corrected in red while she herself holds a red stick
writes round script as if it cost her breath
tucking and flipping free seeming pretending to be
wrapped in thought or seized by thought
the forms pushed into a folder

folder slotted
into a gill of folders in her bag pause
brings out a dusty pink one then a different
kind of form some educational function sub-uni
sector and could that page be 10-point print of
sonnets pondering then back and forth to form
elements close folder back to the bag, another
folder————there is
no time just gas in a tight belly her eyes
meeting something, a possibility?

Great Balls of Fire

How nice it would be to be two quiet people
Talking to each other in a belvedere.

There would be no sharpening of tongues
sitting in a motor car out of a downpour.

We are not cut from the usual cloth are we?
We know silence is not clean, relish the small

dirty price of general conversation, but feel
a tacky glow, something akin to night-sweats,

when sensing a single mind behind it all
a mind that feels we should be made

to know the condition of the beach traffic
the taxonomy of its own certainties.

While he fronts his oratory and we voice
the sweet breezes from our belvedere

we are agreed that he is growing fond
of himself, rather as did Jerry Lee Lewis after

his first hit (so we reminisce between sighs).
Yes we are shy people with our grace notes

and our triple sand-timer for three strengths
of tea but at least one or us (i.e., both of us)

is not unacquainted with lighter fuel. Just as
acupuncture currents can cause regeneration

in axon growth well so too, in mirror image,
a dribble of this fuel might strip the coating

from all the wires on which he depends,
nerve shake/brain rattle when sparked. Flare-up

and the uncooked meat of the matter will be
coolly unscathed. We don’t like to raise

our voices but he has opened the lid
of our piano forte to vomit inside it.

Then we ask ourselves: strong opinions
weakly expressed, or weak ones strongly?

We’re happy, happy in our nattering
happy to have our voices carried away.


russelljacketJames Russell was born in Bristol in 1948. He is a Fellow Emeritus at Queens’ College Cambridge. His two most recent publications are a novella with poems called Craigie’s Clevedon Poems and a collection called A True-Dream Run. Both are available from the Knife, Fork & Spoons Press.

 

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