Poetry by Judith Wilkinson


‘I started to see the desert as a place where people can live. I started to think of myself as a man of the desert’.

                              Mauro Prosperi

 1.     Physique

Greener than the Sicilian hills is the landscape of my body.
In its muscular soil everything flourishes,
its heart-beat punctual as the bells of my birthplace.
My stamina comes from the lava-spiced crops, the vine-leaf-wrapped fish,
the unappeasable volcano.

I get bored not skirting its edges, where terra firma is about to
dissolve, then I draw back but only a hair’s breadth
and let my feet pound the ground till it becomes compact and unyielding.

The body I had yesterday I’ve outrun today,
today’s exhaustion fuels my tomorrows.

I’m taking my place here, in this ultra,
a novice amongst the connoisseurs of sand, the super-running cadavers
the adventurers the self-inventors the die-hard headcases
and this adversarial endlessness we’re up against.

I want to find out what the desert can do,
see what wind and sand and the undeflected weight of the sun
can sculpt me into.

Footnote: This is the first poem of a sequence published in The Warwick Review in March 2013. The poem was inspired by the story of Mauro Prosperi, who ran the Marathon des Sables in 1994 and got lost in the Sahara for nine days.


Keep me up till five
because all your stars are out,
and for no other reason.

                                    J.D. Salinger


You ripped the moon from the sky,
all your stars were out dancing
and I was drinking roses.

So the world turned a while,
with you at the core
fantastical, hell‑bent on breaking

a few idols, a few dreams stuffed with
overdoses of sunlight,
and still I was drinking roses.

Then the stars crept into their shells
and for months all I heard were
the dragons of laughter.

From: Judith Wilkinson, Tightrope Dancer, Shoestring Press 2010.



The circus had departed.
The ghosts she claimed had disappeared.
The scent of him a gradual vanishing act.
If he came back today with conjured caresses,
there’d be no fiction to catch them,
no canopy rigged for high drama.

First, you walked by one day and
the scent of you stung me and
your laugh planted itself in me and then
you and then you beyond denial, or was it
just a token on the wind
I put your name to?

So much child’s play in a day’s work.
Their lovemaking so much fantasy, his make‑believe
her conviction, his freedom her licence,
with him she could be constantly unwise,
when he promised she accepted
something too good to be true.

When you arrived at my door saying: try me –
I did.
Among the wise ones who knew better,
among office ways and compromise and my small lies
and a slick voice always saying: no –
I preferred my choice.

Always the first to start and the last to finish,
reveller, rampant self‑broadcaster, winged
speaker, wiry drinker liar soothsayer beautiful
mocker tightrope dancer juggler with many fates.
A few narrow escapes, a few amazing escapes –
his talent of recovery was catching.

Extract (opening verses) of a long poem from Judith Wilkinson’s collection Tightrope Dancer, Shoestring Press 2010.



 On a sculpture by Constantin Brancusi

What are you, Maiastra, what makes you sure
your gold-bronze body, so featherless, nude,
must shine like a beacon and magically cure
doubt? Aren’t you too simple? Your feet glued
in the rough stone – have you no urge to fly,
to move? Yet your round chest appears to hold
the shades and glimmers of a changing sky –
are you waiting? Will your parted beak unfold
some scheme, some prospect? Why do you half stay
and half surge, all without hesitation,
without need for choice? Were you born from the clay
forms on your worn base – are you their consummation?
And will you age? Does paradise conceal
a bird like you, complete, yet somehow real?

From: Judith Wilkinson, Tightrope Dancer, Shoestring Press 2010.

© of all poems featured on this site remains with Judith Wilkinson

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