George Rawlins ~ Five Poems

Note: These poems are from Cheapside Afterlife, a book-length sequence that reimag­ines the life of the 18th-cen­tu­ry poet Thomas Chatterton. At age 16, Chatterton invent­ed the imag­i­nary per­sona of a 15th-cen­tu­ry poet he named Thomas Rowley and tried to pass off the poems as the work of a pre­vi­ous­ly unknown priest to the literati of London. When that and oth­er attempts to help his moth­er and sis­ter out of pover­ty failed, at age 17 he com­mit­ted suicide.

By St George’s Hill

Having lost the belief of youth that death
will let me pass, I stalk secrets

inside a sense­less birth, a savory stuffed
with beef and scrip­ture. In Mother’s

kitchen, knives like a feath­ered brigade
line the wall, a side of pork laid darkly

cross the planks—we’ve the shadow
of St George’s Hill to make

black pud­ding, thick­ened with a blood
of thanks. My morn­ing hun­gry for tomorrow,

I think what hav­oc I might spin for a mouldering
wheel of ched­dar. How

to imag­ine a bet­ter day over a cockcrow
bowl of paste, then car­ry on toasting


to our youth. We have nothing
but the finest, Tom. Just

yes­ter­day I vis­it­ed a friend’s farm, the choir
of milk­ing machines calmed

the heifers—those alu­minum angels labor
for noth­ing but our suc­cor, our cream

white clothes, poured from a vat
of chemicals—no sheep

need shear­ing. And please, Tom, take
care to shoo them from the feed bins else

they chew until their stom­achs burst. Whether your
world or this, our days are a simple

succotash—we’ll be remem­bered for
how we suc­cumbed to what we didn’t say.


Essay on Knowledge

As a child I must have imag­ined the harlequin
sex­ton parad­ing his mid­night rounds, lamp

held high to hex anatomists’ moon-haunted
shov­els shim­mer­ing with dew to light

my night­mare. When—after much grunt­ing, they
exhumed us to be dissected

in the the­atre of knowl­edge amongst the bleating
lambs of new sci­ence, what les­son of reason

could be mas­tered with­out tast­ing arsenic of the apple
seed? With what cal­cu­lus did Leibnitz mea­sure the variable

slope of suf­fer­ing? How likely
what the stars por­tend above the ceme­tery where

Father lies and Newton might’ve stag­gered, over
wrought by a worm-rid­dled pippin?


At Colston Hospital School

Headmaster nev­er wan­ders lest starlight scorch
the nave of his allu­vial nog­gin. The genius of his

novices, each unique as a hospital
brick, instructs the pur­pose of our grand

brain­ery. Matins of the bum brush­ers teach
us to sleep, bind our scalps as if ton­sured by

the fir­ma­ment to unre­lent­ing igno­rance. Mumble-
mumps of prophets and book­keep­ers, won’t we

school­boys one day drift above bluebell
automa­tons of St John’s Burial Ground, pates shiny

as parch­ment upon which our lives
are etched with nails, of which we have no

say and accept what’s giv­en, then without
ask­ing erase our days behind?


Port of Call

Study close the arti­cles of the Murder
Act—the menu of tiny human souls, unsteady

deck­hands of Leviathan—the weather
of late gives naught

but refusal—clouds weave, wigless
as retir­ing lords. Larks lose themselves

in the air. At Customs House, a roundhead
slaver loads a case of gin

as com­fort for the triangular
tour, stag­gers down the dock

to the Bristol Wharf Coach
& Horses Pub where accounts

set­tle, lumpy and reeking
of ran­cid beef in a can­vas sack. Heed ye well.


Anatomy of the Soul

Exhausted from a day’s labor smudging
mis­takes from ency­clo­pe­dic ledgers, might

you miss it, tran­scen­dent in an alley
off Charing Cross, translu­cent in oil

light? Glassy organs flood with crystal
blood dri­ven by heartache

but for the moon’s edge dulled
pink as a pig knuck­le. Just shy

of the super­nat­ur­al in a bedroom’s
last word, all flesh and every

item of furniture’s brought
back to the world by her painted

toes—love and blood of an inside
riv­er burn­ing all the way down.


George Rawlins has recent poems in The Common, New Critique (UK), Mudfish, Nine Mile, Pennsylvania English, PlainsongsSanskrit, and Spinning Jenny. He has a BA from Ohio University, attend­ed the Iowa Writers’ Workshop for a year, and earned an MFA from the University of California, Irvine. He lives in California and works in the Silicon Valley. The book Cheapside Afterlife is forth­com­ing in April 2021 from Longleaf Press at Methodist University.