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By: C.P Nield

About The Poem

This poem reflects on the first time I wore a face mask, taking a tube at Russell Square station, with its links with the 7/7 bombing and literary connections to TS Eliot. The poem tries to capture the psycho-geography of this underground/underworld place, and reflects on how London’s history of disaster (including the plague) repeats itself in the present.

The Poem

First tube train after 94 days.
First face mask –
and my first eczema
since the age of nine scrapes up
against the tense white loops, as I plummet,
at Russell Square, in a steel box, full of eyes.

The lift stops and we wait.

‘Deep-level.’ ‘Single track.’ ‘Constricted.’
I remember these words from 7/7.
The rucksack that went off between
King’s Cross and Russell Square
was carried to where hands could never be saved,
carried to where breath could only be lost.

When I put my head below the bathwater,
washing my thin hair clean of its grease,
I hear the same tunnel below.

The thunders echo.
They vibrate through the earth,
the fibre-glass and the water.
I often wonder what sounds
I would have heard that day.

I remember, ‘the way up is the way down.’
I remember these words from Four Quartets.
Such depth of thought, Eliot claimed,
was inspired by the coils of this station,
but I think he was joking.
His humour was teasingly dry.

I feel the two patches of eczema,
ticklish and furious,
but cannot catch them in the mirror.
These scabs rub off,
but overnight recover their crustiness,
liven their itches.

The doors open. I head east.
I am breath and anathema.
I carry fires and the plague.
In a train full of eyes. In tunnels.

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