Issue 31: John Wilkinson

Wax Originals




My hoop encloses both a cat and a jackal;

its breadth, how is that, longed-for child,

clasps in one expression next to kitschy

pink walls, the genes of its feral hostages;


but held too in the circle of its fierce event,

summons up Ramallah, its bazaar, Lhasa,

kids with machine guns, cursive alphabets

confined to their ghetto – tightens a scroll


to only nanometres’ tolerance, obliterates

my verses, soaks in high-grade aero fuel.

My heart fills with flesh gagging on itself.

For it to settle flush I have to be cleansed.


A platform blade shunts this scenery off-

limits like a ploughshare would, squirrel

teeth chatter with excitement as its walls

collapse, no more than a stack of siding;


behind, sodium lights dim like East Berlin

behind the Wall before the Wall crumbled,

little casements tile a throwback scenario

where gracious elderly women took tea.


Now on the cleared site I watch merchants

busy about their stock, inlaying skulls

in turquoise, plugging vacant sockets with

obsidian. A smoking mirror finds a signal,


and in a pool of bitumen dim stars dangle.

Where are you, blasted from black skies,

final residents, shivering in puffer coats,

buried under brick rubble, turned inward?








Consciousness exudes from a wax head

its carriers, paragraphing out of forms

stacked to compose its termite brainpan:

fine margins between cavities, sustained,


ensure a message noiselessly transmits

the lines of cold code once assembled.

Gouge inserts from their beds, syringe

error, strip away their flaps and spillage,


let their wax solidify under hot stamps,

their pus ooze, congeal a face you know

now unmasking what had lurked behind.

Wax firms up for null cells, home base


for paper wasps’ formation; its thinking

chews through title deeds and securities,

hardening the pulp to welts of duress

curled on flagstones in a future far court,


bloody but their lines look neat enough.

Flame leaps in sockets, guncotton wicks

gutter melting wax; sculpted forerunners

lording it from plinths, acclaim brands


above slavers, fur traders, tea merchants,

ship-shape and Bristol-fashion navigators.

This is ground truth for such as long

enjoy a free ride in a sweet disavowal


spattered over screens of insect dolour;

solenoid shock treatment, knife’s edge,

shunts the coders off camera but active,

deathly white crawling over a wax tablet.








Into the horizon hoop starlight spits in,

contorted below the pressing sky, carriers,

like a struggling wasp flees my brain,

transmit blight to bloom, the blemishes


to fruit that swing in a windless orchard;

not here will flies foot their mute poison,

but tangle in their miscreance, false-

flag addresses snarl them in the web, by-


pass those ovaries alert for dabs of genetic

uptake. Pick out the proxy serried combs,

internal switches, track rendition paths

off-radar, root a heat sump for memory;


surrendered to the moment, bodies waste,

wretchedly cold, any warmth not sold

for food and drugs, stinks in shell suits.

Tattoos on brittle skin rolled in cylinders


retreat to the caves where they will leak

retained love; like rods of unspent fuel

set in lead, their emanations leave no trace

across the sky, no trace but invisible scars –


no neat metaphor to offer a legible path,

but actual scars. In their tortuous furrows,

dibbled seeds mutate, at once in motion

and confined to lines that now suppurate


excess information. The point of all this,

tips fitted onto heat-seeking missiles,

reaches for the heights; then the linguistic

archive chewed over, plunges into ruin.








Plunging, the orb drains a status colour,

blanking out. Its backwash scatters the full

spectrum in this asphalt pond, where I

take my time reflected, a target for code


worming through the skynet. Supplied

personnel flare and fade, none either lives

or perishes. Our circle of light has failed,

O imagined child, its splinters stinging


the unhomed; once the lamp is shattered,

surface oil swirls threads of colour, laps

at my ankles, its mirror shows no heights

to shave a scalp on, I’m pastured in tar.


Amidst hissing stars, an outline flickers,

reassembles, taunts all seekers after God;

their kisses will erase enamelled icons,

bulbs of wax clump randomly. Devotees


pass headless plinths on disfigured feet,

there is laughter at the base as nails pierce;

in trees’ thinning stands, each naked tree

weeps capsules, each a single specimen


whose shoots split the hoops of memory.

I will re-fledge in fans of finger bones,

nails that outlive. With one climactic blow,

trumpet of a thigh bone proclaims my


immune wastage, fated self-absorption.

But feel my arm flex, hear its joints rattle,

find humanity to cling to, in this amber

sheet of vellum, thick as a mummy’s hand.

John Wilkinson’s most recent books of poetry are Wood Circle (The Last Books) and Fugue State (Shearsman). His lacunal memoir/poetics Colours Nailed to the Mast will be published by Shearsman in 2024. Thanks are due to Clare Hall, Cambridge, for a visiting fellowship when ‘Wax Originals’ was written.

Copyright © 2023 by John Wilkinson, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of Copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author