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.




A NOTE ON THE POEMS


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.


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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.