Mark Czanik was born and brought up in the sweet borderlands of Herefordshire, and now lives in Bath. His poems, stories and artwork have appeared most recently in 3AM, Riptide, Obsessed with Pipework, The Interpreter’s House, Orbis, Third Wednesday, The Frogmore Papers, MIR, and Southword. He is currently very slowly walking the south west coast path with his wife.
Playing blues harp in Stanmore Station
It was a dank, sodium lit underpass
that smelt of urine, overripe fruit,
and childhood passageways, yet it suited me
and the acoustics were good. Every twenty minutes
a train would stop and unload its precious cargo
of commuters, some of whom responded
to the urgency of my need, and left offerings
in the blue Captain’s hat curled at me feet.
Oh, I knew I was no Matt Taylor or Sonny Boy –
an Italian flower-seller at the mouth
of St James once pleaded with me
to leave him in peace.
But for a long time one fugitive siren song
was all I could draw from the vacuum
that had opened up inside me,
and at least it was my heart speaking.
Holner was the black lung through which I breathed
in that far away Big Smoke.
My constant companion, my confidant,
my dummy, my signature, the small change
of my blessings, my means of introduction
and departure, the howling wolf at my door,
often my only escape from the straitjacket of silence
that imprisoned me then.
The missing reed in my voice
I was still learning to play around.
© Mark Czanik
Queen of Orange
How blessed I was to meet you when I did.
Champion of all things orange,
I have so much to thank you for.
For giving me crystals to hang in my window
that cast come and go rainbows on the yellow walls,
and a cigar box painted in Aboriginal colours for my harmonicas,
and leaving that precious copy of Beautiful Losers
on my bed for me to find.
For letting me tag along on your walkabouts
around Op shops, markets, and sweatbox taverns
in that eternal Sydney summer of 1987 –
usually accompanied by Jasmine, your three-legged black Labrador –
and showing me how to do battle with brokenness.
Just getting on a bus with you was an adventure.
You were constantly pointing out people you recognised
in the street, all of whom you celebrated
for some unique talent they possessed
or special place they held in your vast family tree
of really good friends.
It was like travelling with a poor and fabulous,
carefree version of the Queen;
one who cooked me countless miracle meals out of nothing
and shared her wine and relaxments;
who could deliver a nasty pinch with those famous toes
if ever I displeased her or make me blush
like the chosen one whenever she called me a dag.
How many bands and shows did you take me to see
with your mysteriously obtained tickets?
One night it was Elvis Costello. You slept through most of it,
coming to life only after we left.
All the way up George Street you kept stopping passers-by
to tell them I was an illegal immigrant.
I couldn’t stop you no matter how I tried to shush you
or drown you out with my harmonica.
You even came up with a little ditty: ‘Mark’s an illegal immigrant,
his passport’s not so diligent.’ A police car crawled past.
‘Help, I’m being kidnapped by an illegal alien!’ you cried.
‘He wants to be arrested so he can be sent home.
He’s missing his Mum.’
I wasn’t missing anybody when I was with you.
I was too busy trying to stay on my feet
in the Taureanado of your enthusiasms
and dark romantic wit,
the colour education you were giving me
in how best to remove orange juice
from the kitchen floor in the darkest hours
by standing in your bare feet on a towel
and shuffling around with it;
marvelling at the Aladdin’s cave of your room
and the frangipanis you wore in your bunched black hair
long before it became Frida fashionable.
Or just being in awe of your Lust for Life.
What did Iggy Pop know.
Anyway, eventually you lost interest in my embarrassment
and started singing at the top of your voice,
your One Woman Goddess Midnight Choir
as we walked that long unfolding street towards the home
I was lucky enough to be sharing with you.
That night it was ‘Bury me Deep in Love,’
another song I hadn’t heard before.
Which to this day I can’t hear without singing along to.
© Mark Czanik
Poem for Kasamira on her twenty-fourth Birthday
My little berry,
my book-rest and desk sitter,
my sea-girl from Porlock,
my little bundle of joy found stowed away
in the bathroom laundry basket,
my lucky horseshoe, my anchor,
my buttercup sleeping in the little cave
under my chin, my tribal child
I never wanted to put down,
my ribcage on whom I used to play
Beethoven’s 5th, imperfectly, but with great gusto,
my kitchen dancer whirlpool
and list-maker extraordinaire,
my butterfly double marble,
my creaking floorboard,
my slip of home-light under a door,
my blow-in firefly from the forest
of beautiful illusions
upon which my life depends,
my unbroken trail of breadcrumbs
leading me back to where
I no longer need to go,
who is not mine at all,
but a stroke of good lightning,
a thinking tree that knows and owns itself.
My little bandit magician,
still following me through
and coming out first.
© Mark Czanik