Issue 18: John Wilkinson

Facing Chesil Bank

How high should this go? Air shelves 

        dip down, slant 

        light buttresses, 

gulls cry above the slates, put it here.

Wind heavies, waves lean into sloped

        ledges, under-

        tow of pebbles 

rolls shaking sprung beds and turf. 

Loud shingle warps banks of filters,

        bass traps admit

        bare meaning – 

wind’s mantle dragged off the lonely.

Seabed ramping up climbs to beach.


        low against cliffs, 

breath rubs through them, warmth

tugged and worried by intent breeze

        wafts it here, shone

        from a steadfast

single bar of pebbles, like a thought

flees the moment summoned up or

        cinnamon scent

        pools on a

summer night. Like some distraught

laugh, viridian fixed and quizzical,

        motley clothes

        or personal skit,

herself as her more fanciful version:

below combes discordant sand frets.

        Surge of sea

        draws out far-off

traffic noise, follow this or that pause,

put it to one side, a mere scratch more 

        than accidental,

        not so much a tally

as a thinly-beaten disc, scuffed faint

indentation sullen water seeps into,

        the first step 


To be harboured, have comfort, have

ease, lie guarded from relentlessness,


        ploughs, compacting

shingle bulwark: the gaps suck, piles

murmur, squeezing through cavities,

        shift counter surge,

        dispersing impact

off-shore, rip-tide radiates off baffles,

making shift so making certain. Single

        out, strip back

        laden breath,

a rank, moist, intolerable cosset; bare

the head that wind had made hard as

        knuckle, hung

        in bullock gloom: 

cavities sluice out a new insurgence,

deadpan rock will crack no entryway,

        where unashamed


streamers of dead warmth serve to

fathom shortfall, flitch air and drizzle

        diehard, feast

        fat on failing grass,

count famine assets frankly lucrative.

The only sun is dead set on a possible,

        endured sun.

It slaps an obdurate nameplate, shines

        under soft digits.

Its only sky stops above the huddled

        beasts at a freshet.

Ocean floor is slabbed in claim forms,

        spells and re-states

debris gripped in the dismantler arms,

        the definition roar

grades gravel. In what cleft can I hide

        this bare shim?

How high should it go? Bare like any

        thorn or gravel

        bloodying my shoe,

yanked will be caught by noisy light,

splitting rock; or will it spring the steel 

        plate from its guard,

        open present time

to the vista of expansive dying foam?

A solitary aslant shies away from vast

        waves, skirts

        edge of rockfall,

shim put here, shim considered, shim

loved past reason, shim data-tracked,


        a breath released

from bullocks hunched under the lee,

its trace scribbled through exhausted

        rills of sand –

        until erased, scrubbed

at the outlet by a boom drawn across,

all havoc stilled and misery at face-off,

        tide tamps within 

        hearing, in my

gulping ventricles, tide hauling back,

dragging stones into my head, thus I

        hummed accordantly.

        Where shall I go, 

placeholder whose slant scrawl snags.

So Far and No Further

Burst on a rubbish dump like her bag

        hooked by receptors

        disavow the legacy of

rise and fall, all position falls vacant,

dull the stones and too meticulously

        combed for any trace

        smeared or purulent,

mites scurrying amid lichen shroud.

Fog horn blurts, their misadventures

        thud into eyelets.

        Never had gaps, pores

wanted so, inviting fleas to a stretch

spring the murky eye so spray curls

        back into its blister,

        spits pewter spiders 

shovel-primed as though for seeding,

strews loose rough-cuts now congeal

        on the flux floor,

        stiffening, unbudgeable. 

Boulders once glistened with her look.


Intermittently a bulge of grey 

        felt would pig on itself, 

even as the outer world, 

        recoiling, threw out feelers, 

slovening in tears of grease,

        swollen became runnels:

once apparelled in the salt

        lockdown, stood vulnerable. 

There between laurel flitches 

        stalked a quarryman

flourishing his mattock.

        Ever afterwards, as beasts 

huddle injured and famished,

        who couldn’t bear to be 

confined, pick at clouts,

        opting for their captivity.

Dressing-Up Box

Void but even there a spark plays.

        Just try: a log I dragged

through the doldrums 

        couldn’t gauge its scope.

Then saw such exchanges meted 

        out, knots slacken,

lines begin to fray in this harness,

        varnish flake as night  

thrown its foregoing crust.

        Then saw the lake dwellers 

pack boats idling alongside.

        Cloud put on bulk,

consommé dripped from clouds,

        while at a windowseat 

picked apart flesh tassels,

        gold, carmine tips to lash,

tethered should they happen 

        to inch outward. As

when one deep-laid hawser

        flopped, as when I yawed,

veins I carburettor, veins I muffle,

        veins I be singled out

for the spark you induce,

        leaping between poles.

John Wilkinson teaches at the University of Chicago. His selected poems, Schedule of Unrest, were published by Salt in 2014, and subsequently a pamphlet, Courses Matter-Woven, appeared from Eqipage and in 2016 a U.S. collection, Ghost Nets, from Omnidawn.