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.]

Copyright © 2017 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.