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Poetry / Mark Russell

'War Games’ and 

‘Come on, Eurydice!’

Issue 1. February 01, 2021


We caught up  most  days over fatty and stringy goat meat, chicken and  lamb
being scarce. That day, we gathered around the Geographers, two weeks late
back from  their trip up north. They had been  captured by the rebels, held for
several days,  and subjected to rebel-indoctrination  classes.  When they were
finally  released into  the hands  of the military,  they were mistaken  for rebels
and  subjected  to  debriefing  and government-indoctrination  classes.  Field
work  rarely  held  such  high  status.  Its  discussion  drew  crowds  from  other
tables.  ‘One more metre of red earth,  men!’  said one,  wiping his brow  as if
scorched  with  exhaustion.  ‘One more rock, men.  We must  reclaim the rocks
of the  barren  earth!’  said  another, cupping  an  imaginary  AK-47.  ‘Show  us
the  bullets!  Show us  the  bullets!’  cried  the  crowd.  The gunman  shook  its
empty  magazine,   squinted  through  the  cock-eyed  calibration  of  its   sight,
aimed  its warped  barrel  at the enemy.  ‘And  do you  know what?’  one of the
Geographers  said.  Everybody  quietened  down. ‘The  men at  the  front  have
all the  chickens.’  He rubbed his tummy  and licked  his lips before  the canteen
rioted  in  laughter.  He  was  chased around  the  dining  hall,  red  rocks  in  the
shape  of   berbere-soaked  goat   meat,   rained  down  upon   him.   ‘Wash  his
brain!’ they cried, ‘wash his brain!’


We  thought  grandad  would go on   forever.  The chemo  just  seemed  to
energise him, like the Incredible Hulk.  There was the pin in his leg; the four
or was it five)  mini strokes that bent his vowels to the right and  made them
fly  away  over  the  estuary;   the  something  to  do  with  his  kidneys;   the
repressed  memories  of Japan;  the gnawing  inability  to name  his children
correctly.  There were so  many bullets  that should have  brought  him down.
He  once told  me that the best thing  he  ever did  was  to smash off  the rear
view  mirrors on his  trusted 1983  Vauxhall  Senator.  ‘You don’t  need to know
what’s  behind  you,  kid,’  he  would  tell me every time  my dad went to  fetch
him from the hospital. ‘And girls love the excitement.’

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, The Tangerine, and elsewhere. 

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