Charles Wilkinson

The Contraction
                                  his third
                                 finger a
                                knot below
                               skin swells
                             in the palm

the grammar of healing gone wrong for what connects
will thicken till nails turn inwards & the claw cannot
grip; no pain —  harm’s in the failure to hold an object
or agree, for no crab will shake on it; the northern
inheritance of the man whose name might mean
Viking’s son, if the contraction’s both the word
& the flesh
                    the incidence highest in Iceland &
Norway; the cause unknown, although they say

what repeats wounds:
 the tennis elbow,
    the housemaid’s knee

as did hard hours white-rowing across cold sea:

power from the shoulders passing the force down

the arms to welt & scar the salt: oh the drumbeat

for dragon-thrust, through spindrift & spume! the rage

 of pillage — & the spread eagle, cage-cracked & rib-red! 

                        here he tears dry skin, for its comfort of hurt,
                        as if returning to the hand that held the oar
                           between havoc & home, with no sight of land
                             or hope of port, when the quest’s forgotten
                               in unresting rhythm running through
                                 the rowlocks, when there are only                            
                                    water’s luminous instants,
                                      where the wake’s forgotten,
                                        & no horizon for a ship in
                                             the long now
                                               of sailing —

Note: Dupuytren’s contraction: a disease that starts with nodules under the skin on the palm. 
In its later stages, it can cause one or more fingers to bend. The condition is sometimes known as Viking hand.

shells strung out on a necklace


     not the tale    
  tainted in the long telling  
but a line attested through spit 
 & the traces in the blood, though  
there’s no locating Eden,  
     the first place   
       for dwelling   

the bowmen’s poison displacing a people with pointed heads

     an island     
 once without a race, the haunt 
for feral boar, yet bones give proof     
of primal Amerindian     
  festival, before the white  
      hands raising   
       of the roofs   

earlier than the arrival, an Arawak adze made from a sharp-lipped shell


    the last of  
 luxuriance: cutting the 
canopies; & the Carribs gone 
or fled; cottoning on to wealth 
   as a good smoke led to land- 
    scapes & the 
     death of trees 

After extinction, the great leap from jungle to farm & garden


    perfect for 
  the white gold: some Portuguese 
advise the Sephardic science 
of sweetness; the coming of the 
  tall true grass spiking the stream;
   a new craft
    making rum 

process of crushed cane, cogs & oak casks producing death at sea


    a loss more 
  than nominal: after the 
Middle Passage, the branding on 
black; at the port of entry Green 
Monkeys from Senegal are 
    all pets for 
      the gentry 

renaming - the right of the masters; elision of language yet sounds lisp both ways 


    the trade winds 
& a hurricane change; old 
flora fading; Great House, poor shacks 
& sugar beet; there’s no shade for 
the Johnny Red Legs’ fair 
    flesh razed raw 
      in the heat 

how the home rhythms last in the beat of dance, the Landship legacy 

     exile is 
  the red robin’s absence &  
 a gain of humming birds, clear skies 
 & killdeer; then strong winds bending 
 palms: incidental music 
   for an em- 
     pire ending 

though first: ‘lick & lock up done wid! Hurrah for Jin-Jin’

   a dry well 
 & the base of a windmill; 
the Great House abandoned 
on the hill top; land sinking to
powder on a swarming beach:
   the sands warm
       & coral pink


     not sea glass 
  or star fish, but shapes cleared 
of death: the huts empty or a 
choice of shells, gaps behind the fans. 
an emblem of voice: the conch 
    held waiting 
      for new breath

these glimpses, seen shifting on the gloss, confirmed in the blood

Note: ‘Sephardic sweetness’ – Portuguese Jews helped the Caribbean planters to perfect the process of making rum

Charles Wilkinson’s recent poems have appeared in Poetry Wales, Poetry Salzburg (Austria), Shearsman, New Walk, Tears in the Fence, Envoi, Otoliths, Futures Trading and other journals. A pamphlet, Ag & Au, appeared from Flarestack Poets. A full-length collection of his poetry is due from Eyewear in 2018.

He lives near mountains in Wales, where the members of the ovine community command the high places and are better looking than the politicians. A Twist in the Eye, his collection of weird fiction and strange tales, is out from Egaeus Press.
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