Cheapside Afterlife – 5 Poems by George Rawlins

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Pic by Simon Berger

 

 

These poems are from the forthcoming book Cheapside Afterlife (April 2021, Longleaf Press at Methodist University). The book 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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Ambition

At twelve, Mother brought you to the meeting
house—leper’s bread malformed on long

spare tables. Speeches and days of rain
drove you to almost understand what makes

men in a world that hides from its
intent just as a criminal

conceals a crime so he may save
himself. Hunger, that ingratiating parasite, has such

friends. At Custom’s House, they’ll trade
what comes—and if you shy, young Tom, you’ll not

succeed. That rogue you fancy yourself, contrived
of youth, disappointment, and fury might

raise a hackle on the hound roused from sleep by
a morsel of beef fallen to the sawdust floor. Might not.


 

Leigh Woods Pastoral, with Uncertainty

There’s no ushering, Tom, the hap. You treasure
her on Sunday, red bonnet bright as the flag

of a warring nation. You dream
of Africa’s rivers, cool

and aimless beneath that habitual
sun, but put her off as you dream

of her, remembering Mother’s fingers, worn
smooth by needles and fabric: you brood

over holiday joy and sadness as they lurk, twin
assassins among oak shadows that deepen this idyllic

chaos as if nature intends
all of it as you stand

midfield to call her name into this
frenetic meadow.


 

Mystery Play

Child Caliban, you sprawled over The Compleat
Tragedies in the mouldering

bookshop to sleep off your adolescent
jugbite. Not another afternoon of Jacob’s

ladder and battledore, dodging wings
of angelic shuttlecocks. Here lies the invention

of yourself, sustained by a soup of husks
and boiled fingernails, so long before you

are the genius of the unwritten. Your ghost
quill pricking a cloud deflates

Xanadu, where Sam T. Coleridge sleeps
it off to write your name on rain

washed slate beneath a couplet to gild
the cups of heaven’s poorhouse.


 

In the Chase Near Portishead

Those days of foxglove and sea holly, Polly
played the chase. We picnicked

out near Portishead where, before the edging
pine of Savermake, we exchanged provisional

vows. That afternoon sullen Gritsones
blessed us, our every whim was music

made with sticks and rocks, our pleasures
blunt. That evening she wore a bible ‘tween

her pretties. Then chanced a gentleman
to take his lunch upon her hope chest

linen for ravishment by pretty
jests. Still, I savour that heart’s blood

pudding, as if beauty were a morsel
savoured in the gut for all my days of hunger.


 

Essay on Composition

Sniff the Wife of Bath smoking sot
twisted in a crumbly page; browse

the stacks for sovereigns; scratch a little Will
Dugdale and Jack Cooper’s Muses Library

where Edward the Confessor still suffers a liar’s
hangover. Shake off some Samuel

Daniel melodrama with a ménage of feminine
endings, splash a double dactyl and brush

the embers off the faery into your Earl
Grey with a chastened Astrophel

or Stella. Shall we call the roll of antique
verbs for newfound verses? Shall we warp

them into newborn flesh to capture lightning
like fireflies dying in a jelly jar?


 

About the Author

George Rawlins has recent publications in Chiron Review, The Common, New Critique (UK), New World Writing, and One Hand Clapping (UK). He lives in California. 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.