Issue 18: John Wilkinson
Facing Chesil Bank
How high should this go? Air shelves
dip down, slant
gulls cry above the slates, put it here.
Wind heavies, waves lean into sloped
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
pools on a
summer night. Like some distraught
laugh, viridian fixed and quizzical,
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
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,
shingle bulwark: the gaps suck, piles
murmur, squeezing through cavities,
shift counter surge,
off-shore, rip-tide radiates off baffles,
making shift so making certain. Single
out, strip back
a rank, moist, intolerable cosset; bare
the head that wind had made hard as
in bullock gloom:
cavities sluice out a new insurgence,
deadpan rock will crack no entryway,
streamers of dead warmth serve to
fathom shortfall, flitch air and drizzle
fat on failing grass,
count famine assets frankly lucrative.
The only sun is dead set on a possible,
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
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
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,
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.
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.