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  John Wilkinson
John Wilkinson is an English poet teaching in the US at the University of Notre Dame. His most recent books of poetry are Lake Shore Drive (2006) and Down to Earth (2008). In 2007 he published a collection of essays, The Lyric Touch.



What Have We Here
for Keston Sutherland


That tide was running towards their cocked levers.
Pent curlicues. Having the will, but what was will? –

a scoop for dragging shallows. Them it was drying,
notching rested piles, them it was whose advocacy

jerked the lemming shapers of the requisite scope,
nets obstruct a fish ladder. Thus does any expanse

become negotiable. Became. This had to draw out
first. Think a matched vision, twisting at its contact

points in blue & pink: so did both of them protest,
thrashed against the bounds. Once pressed in, now

ribboned the corniche at high speed: below curved
the harbourmouth, whose granite match embedded

ferny spirals liquid whirligigs sporadically de-head,
a few of us went to look, whatever became of them.

What became. Took short before dragging out. Met
their maker touching high tension wires, remnants

rinsed like hummocks switch polarity, what will be
was splattered tidally, with scrabbled oyster palette,

one eye closed against the inevitable tide of history,
meanwhile a trickster sets at odds its throng bestirs.


Tides shuddered neap the stress suppressed in layers,
overlaying lunar scrape on dead bloom, reproduce,
              sulphur flowers
became as photoactive as living friends, piled over
obstacles as people carriers sank disrupting surfaces
knew deep inside...

Engulfing that strain you know, rife as corticosteroid,
sleek blood-eaters caught on, ghoulishly excited,
              print, download & sell
beaming epidemics warped cars purvey, disseminate
down ledges stepping from her trashed thing,
see what you owe me...

These make ripples...

Shall they rise above-ground, although long interred,
weather-eye on the posthumous,
              sniffed each other out,
breaking through,
not into shining paths or into gaseous verisimilitude,
but cogent in intensities, covered admired
sheets with coatings of soot or slime,
what happened to the future,
              shadowed that too,
that being the face they covered as with a face
obscuring them, even above unstable waves
doubling & redoubling while introduced smilingly cut.

Air was thin for all these gases’ pousse-café layering,
              soil fused
to barley-sugar, amber. Stay with the polymorphs
streaming out of side-windows, grabbing music
from its dark slot, it will have been familiar garb
                               sprawled on the apron,
it will have laid down the soft low resuming
Should its aerial ballet be allowed to distract the eye
from sockets in the hard standing, saucer vents,
              calderas, hernias, hot spew
capped gushers shudder, or let flamboyant mossing
draw across its blinds, soft, while the devout traps

applied their spiked badges, scraping shins, the auto
rescue clubs rose where waves affecting to respond,
              lumpy like Comice pears,
like fridge or oven doors, yellow rigid packing foam,
dilapidated tide sucking holes scavengers cluster in,
trashed the indicators

covered indicators with the likenesses of wholes

brackish, no refreshing spring, ditched in the Atlantic

Faint pings locate a global positioning gadget...


How richly stained this earth, projects of the cupola
fallen flat but more rewarding. Here a blue-chip family
             planning wealth
suffused stone, moved its holdings over dusty flags,
blew out the bethel of a high-def inscape copper-lined:

ripped parti-coloured fane or glass, the rinsed returns
glittering across a turbine hall, stack up in the musty
convertor, awaiting its alchemy, pricked black rollers
underneath a leaden soffit rampant foliage grappled,

wrinkling felt shutters, mouldering the red component
pillagers brought home: the much you stole became
             anti-wrinkle eye cream –
Haitian mud-slides, a Congolese mine exporting slap,
squinting leering bodies lapped by water’s blindness,
                             became, becomes
quaffing sparkling water, a day’s output swept away
by foreseeable acts of weather, acts of the smiling sky
             marking down, marking down:
this much you stole bubbling through the mud like
petrol rainbows shimmered on her face between wipes,

                                          rebuilt her face
blinded by such history as blotting at the windows
             Palestine by rote, invariably Poland,
the much-renounced victim will reappear in blotches,
showing through...
mauve & yellow streak the roadway, as if the camera
found its metal tracks hyphenated, lurched
back to the Odessa steps,
she screws tight the wing-nuts on her stretcher for lace,
what is, was; what was, is,
the blue-robed family...
                                                      a tambourine
picked backwards, dust & lint & powder-charge
explode, we picked out from flash masonry
this afterimage...
                                        Second sight
arriving at the airport, input through cracked eyeglass
retrospective, fatal blacktop glued across her shades,
asphalt humped with tragic creatures.
She understood she had control, but when to dip
& duck & dive
                           She’s clearly more a lace-maker,
whose shawl winds miners under the inverted dome,
whose shawl wraps evacuees beneath the sliding roof.

How rich is that. Light falling flat, light’s green barrier
slides across, blinds of rattled moss toning down their
                distant shouts,
eyes work legally, work personally,
who ditch & delve the rising mud studded with rough
diamonds. Those are diamonds that were their eyes.

Behind, a back-suffusion of warmest gold

strokes the panoramic print, hunger-eleganted bodies
boomed round the globe.


For all you know colonises chilly shanks, overheats
the plucked lip, the beetle brow, the hanger, even

fairest starts collapse in a roller ditch, a coffin tide
rushed plastic from the Congo to the horse latitudes –

Whereas embankments studded by these bulges of
the watchful inward, metal looms humming, early-

warning sensors, ranked levers like in a signal box,
these ranks of bosses held the mud back, biscuited

adobe walls vatic eyes rough over, hinged tongues
worked by piezoelectrics, now each cell expands on

bounded recapitulation, they barely need to alter,
for the levers do their notional job while backs toil.

The fathomless room we dreamt of did nigh teeter.
The isness of a put-up job lolled, combined a brute

foreshadowing whose eyes rally fiercely, alongside
tongues that wag, then stop abashed, still glowed;

stayed hungry unenforceable dogs though satisfied,
biting bits, chewing carbon strips. Shadows shrunk

functionally to high-tech daub, etched on the adobe
microns-thin: dark were productive crystals, invalid

once a pause, once nothing, following one vacuous
gulp, revert. As it is this forest is lousy with nymphs.


Cockamamie but he locked, enervated toggled from
a calcifying tube, a few fronds.
             Shrinking back to previous outline,
stood for it,
cursed with this form. He met himself, his valuable
secretions would have been the making of him,
just find the middle-man,
             dried out he was furious, neutral,
reslaked his periscope peeked through the slag,
there were transporter pileups wherever he’d turn
his bristle crest,

Still he drove himself like his own delegate,
still he’d return to himself,
like from a glove distillery this was his only haven,
one place to go for,
             place a first groping found.
                            A book left on the beach.
A floppy but no reader. A rudderless ketch.
Out from its sheath retort a chrysalis had unfurled,
like new growth of grass ejected,
sliding telescopically all round wherever he’d look.

             Used to go out, dredge the lanes
for pirate videos: I used to socialise there, chatting
freely on the dockside: counterfeiters
drove up the original to what would have been
too pristine by half. Still, I kept the faith.
I shacked up on a hillside overlooking Montevideo,
diagrams of a breakthrough
             by Tupamaros guys,
tapes of control-room banter spoke to guys
held in abandoned cisterns. Not sensible.
I ended up locked in my own burrow that frightened.

So he in his own cognizance in his hide-out, luxury
six-bathroom shed, ponied up the necessary.
             this curved bay, this curving road
carrying all before, dropped
his still-wriggling cast into an advance permission.
I never could find my way back,
he slipped across but never stood a ghostly.
             A black wave of asphalt broke, flattening
whatever on his look he cast, death-dealing.
Was that his profile lengthening in black on black?
Later sliding back inside its cartridge?

             That I couldn’t specify, lines
of supply cut, no way would they draw me out but
vengefully I gouged this path, blasting rock.
The chamber then exposed was ribbed &
thought its struts from inside the chrysalis’s shape –
cast of thought some
intestinal impress a moth’s flight would accomplish,
                                            to its origin,
                                            its navigational flower,
for what was left behind would set the next stage,
             for loss
which doesn’t bear thinking about,
                             uplifted me nonetheless,
a green ghost escaped my mouth,
                                                           flapping all torn up.


Contraries off level 1, yield to one only wave-form:
by force these troughs will cleave to true, flush as

ever brightly superimposed. Certificate their copies,
touching but unstimulating, nostrilling by numbers

strive to hold their curve, heads bow formally, just
set on course their tentative feet, lock the stations

for the embodiments, hook between them tip to tip
the draglines, they’re a must to preserve buoyancy.

Even so their snippets fall like shoals of omega-rich
laps & laps flesh out the action, clew to earring in a

stretch of cordage. Drive to the forest in a Japanese
best buy, drive deep into your hangar, bushy-tailed

with tube-worm threads, sheared passages for nest;
suspend through airy gobs the locomortal, become

became a host of nautiluses, phosphorescent spools
illuminate the furthest edge, some slight tidal shift

pushing waves by fractions out, dislocating shingle,
spiral jetty. Comb the ridge round when day shakes,

grubs shake, trees shake, the boulevard of maple
veers into a junction box, groundswell is exuberant,

what new land is this? & while the shoreline settles,
tank traps & polyethylene cups unleash our globes.

© John Wilkinson 2009