The While


Beyond the book the book lowers 

groaning blades of copters,

weariness of sirens which in faltering

slop urgency over junctions,

spools of wire and bandages, Pound

and Malaparte write out a book’s

mandate, where all the bodies’

pitching furious fits,

screeds of pain light wouldn’t deign

to light on, why waste energy,

settle for a long haul. Lone

man drives over from the West,

who is this? is he instigator,

he some agent provocateur, some dealer

or delayer, someone

dealing dirt while self-masked?


To scribble over endpapers, write

across hooded lids, the while

emergency, a clampdown,

a heavy drop marks this generation’s

vulnerable necks, the while a clipboard

bangs door to door, gaunt

fixtures have sprouted nozzles

sucking up depth images, rubber

feeder lines snake away

to mobile dissident units, patching to

stored profiles. Keep an eye there,

stuck inside the while,

stay your hand, there where it stops,

grabbed, brought forward,

centred to obliterate

the bleeding obvious white sky.


Compile, pick your moment

where the howl disjoins from mask

an awful flap, as if a face

burnt on its air-frame thwarts disguise.

Some while it was, the while

reeled out like dental floss each hour

along the time-stamp street,

no-show, reviewing footage:

blindsided behind hardboard,

suits embrace shiny chests

of mannequins, a crashed browser

knows cloud-play is just pissing as

words dismount to fight jousts

with angry strokes, assured

on that day they venture forth

their images will march reflectionless.


A howling there is heard in the city,

beast in labour as an El train

howls round a sharp bend in the Loop,

South and West sides echo:

copter blades flatten, drowning out

a howling on the plaza,

convection howls under a sky

bloodying the while. How to profit:

chalk-marks score the asphalt,

downward slash for every boy who’s

tasered, sharply rising

stocks stab at bedrolls in porches.

Vagrant noise cannot be tamped:

Heat must rise so insolent

retaliation drives home

noise in the fulness of time like nails.


Code did assemble master selves

in frames the elders laid out,

distributed where hyphens shunt

person packets through the horizontal.

Peremptory strokes of I-here

big themselves, their tantrums flip; I-

exalted prates from a howling

residue of pitch, prates from assets

shoring bones that won’t lock,

knee-bones at a loss to kneel,

redcoat propping upright hard astern,

redcoat blood and sugar

stiffens into sailcloth. Clouds

prettify along that picturerail above

Atlantic for all time, dance

over tortured spines, are damasking.


A newscaster smirks behind glass.

A feeder line or fire-hose

coughs out images, commentary

to disinfect with lashings of new-tech

crawlers and tickers, closing in

as news hounds. You mask up

to be featured, ticking ‘no scent option’

won’t confound the trackers

linked to lampposts and cells: you will

nourish with your data

crimson leaves blazing in the foyer

of Citadel LLC, where all leads –

its floors buffed by arthritic wrists

whose arteries are knouts and

whipcords, whose veins pull together

time’s net strangulating I-here.


Beyond the warpland,

             the barricaded

pier a screech of tires

                           Down Ida B Wells

                                        a choir of

                           car horns, some Céline

obscenity, an eight-

             year-old in cross-

fire, a grown-up straight

                           and on record, this page

                                        dissolves in lye,

                           lye in the eye.

She was not caught in cross-

             fire, she is what

was always meant, a corpse

             restauranteur, the beads

                           drawn on her

             read off the schedule, menu.

Beyond the book


Tires screech up Michigan.

Trees screech up Michigan.

Chicago, Summer 2020


John Wilkinson’s cycle of poems Wood Circle is published by The Last Books (2021), following his collection My Reef My Manifest Array (Carcanet 2019). His critical book Lyric in Its Times was published by Bloomsbury in 2019 and a small book of essays, The Following came from The Last Books in 2020. He teaches at the University of Chicago.


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