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3 poems by George Rawlins

From Childhood

Now freed from a tongue-tied scurvy, I dream

of the lime groves of Temple Gardens, where

a death rattle’s nothing more than a gypsy

dance. Fate’s so easily distracted by

simple temptation, I know here

in the Great Wen, the doors of this hovel

will never let me pass. My childhood

relics arranged on the bed, this scrabble

of winter starves the heart. Maggots, nearly

cured by fermenting bitters, perform

their nightly circus. Though I had a morning

caller, I marked time until the footfalls

vanished—to go on fathoming

myself the first and last of my kind.

Sidewalk Screevers

Propped against London Bridge in whatever midday

shade they find, where you, fellow traveler, might

hunker like the wise fly of August that expires

overnight to sell your wares. A few

pennies for a catchy saw; a shilling, Good

Sir, for a rhyme? A sketch, perhaps, of Willie

Pitt the Younger’s prat shiny

as a Tory cheek, forehead bowed

as a brigantine low with spice for Hogarth’s

kitchen? A pure one—young as Aphrodite’s

teat—has sketched a Madonna to trample till she’s mopped

away at daybreak. Beside her, fingers twisted like a Belgrave

shrub, an old hand chalks a winding

staircase to the king of an army of locusts.

A Visit to Thomas Cross, Apothecary

Arsenic, laudanum, clap, or pox? We

accommodate. Another jar of Dover’s

powder, please, good for washing hooves

or to clear the mind—we can board the early

carriage to a forgotten Arcadia, where the hides

of blackened horses smolder on rooftops

from colliery chimneys. Here’s a sonnet

for a pork pie, please, a hatchet

for a tankard. Here’s an expletive

to express affection, a half pence

for my fortune. Don’t forget love’s phantom slips

its shade into the careless mouth: we need

no spoon for such hunger, the Spanish

itch nor Bible to parse the human error.


These poems are from a book-length sequence that reimagines in 57 sonnets 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. Decades after his death, he was credited by Coleridge and Wordsworth as the founding spirit of Romanticism.


George Rawlins has recent publications in The Common, New Critique, New World Writing, and One Hand Clapping. His forthcoming poetry collection, Cheapside Afterlife (April 2021,

Longleaf Press at Methodist University), reimagines in 57 sonnets the life of the 18th-century

poet Thomas Chatterton.


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