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Extracts from Nick Burbridge's All Kinds Of Disorder - Waterloo Samplers No. 13



Stage-lights on his scalp.
Trenched face, half-empty clothes.
Chords struck with a numb pick.

Sojourns on a stool, shut-eyed.
Etched voice sparsely used, still intact.
A dredged encore.

In the white room afterwards
you hold him so hard it hurts,
fumble for his hand, and end,
stroking his neck, lost for words.

As you leave he looks towards you
like a sparrow in a box,
lost to the cancer
crowing in his lungs.

He forces a last line:
See you soon.
Defiant or dead-pan.
Like a smoke-ring, let it hang.

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Festival Tales

Look where it comes again...like a fish-hook
in a duffle-coat, bearing a brown envelope;
on streets we share between park-lake and sea-shore
our trails cross too seldom to be familiar,
too often to avoid repetition.

He is a celebrated playwright.
He launches into theories of catastrophe
already trumpeted in broadsheets,
why he is neglected here, only Europe pays his dues.
I am a half-made man, neurotic with metaphors.
I want to ask what he thinks of the smooth-tongued osteopath
whose hands we share, eczema that brindles our children,
and the Hallet lad who once played football with -
but last month mugged - his son,
in a new role striking to get enough crack.

I need to keep my feet.
Yodelling from peak
to peak
where the air is thin
gives me vertigo.

But great ones ply the art
of being ghost-like and offensive.
They move only as they choose,
wherever you go; lean into
the space and leave you dislocated.
Their engagement is a kind
of absence; like newborn Christians
or armed gossips, your first breath
inspires them; you are stage-hand,
tout, someone arrived too late.

So I cede another patch full of his staccato
and the ring of his bad breath.
As I slope to the day-centre
and he parades to the post-office
I remind myself I've met a living master
whose safe hands mould my inner form.
Yet all he leaves are echoes, feints;
you don't reach him,
he passes - for, the truth is,
he cannot touch, he cannot touch.

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Easter Sunday. This black busker by the supermarket strikes up
When You're Smiling on a silver flute.
A bad luck hulk comes downhill with his bust shoes
split carriers and piss stains, beard matted, eyes burnt blue.

The street opens. A river runs through.
A glass mountain rises out of Safeways.
Two boys at the top tremble while a hermit
in his holed boat slow-motions the lost souls to climb up.

He hesitates, makes sure he knows what he has to do
and shouts, 'What's up, doc?' The flute stops.
He turns and slips into the river, floats to the far side,
with his smile, and strides off.

The black guy shakes his head and spits.
His slender fingers take up a new song.
When he glances to his feet he sees the sun has melted
the silver in his cup and it flows over. He dare not stop.

Happy Birthday echoes down the street.


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