Caroline Wilkinson




You are my ghost ship, captain
cut from deck, mutiny worn down
to a sign I'll sink. I'm done when

you slip in sight. A wave, inside
out, did in your dread of no one
at the helm. Done already, you care

nothing about boom calm, loose
mainsheet. My ship tips. The hull
fills, forcing me to kick. Rising,

I find the air is not the one
that crossed my skin before I sank.
Too thick to breathe, it suggests

I'm dead. Your ship's a mess,
going nowhere. But you care nothing
about rope-edged luffing. Call this drift

love, but it is, in fact, the end again.
You're death, and I'm on board.
Silly to join—silly as my vessel.

Buoying me, this ship's a joke.
It's played for laughs on a TV show
for kids. The cargo, tea, though,

still frightens from a china cup.
The silver spoon of an older
white woman against the china edge                    
can hypnotize. But the tempest inside
destroys, tearing apart paradise
with storms blown from the ghost
ship's harvest. It's justice I'm alone.
The one who lulled me here is lost.
My indifference to conditions lets

me go on when threatened by nothing,
which is always. I can claim my ship's
just a metaphor. But what is just?

This ship's vast, having gone rogue
like empire. The quartermaster cries
orders. The ship offers up its plank,

almost capsizing. Mad as a captain
to be slaughtered, I know will's
delusion, the end resembling

the means so closely, the righteous
overthrow looks like the chaos
that comes after. With enough

distance, my calm too may look
like grace and not familiarity
with catastrophe and would be

were I alive and you here. But I would
not have joined this crew had I not died.
My occupation demands I know a fatal

sight that makes kids laugh until,
sitting up at night, they cannot wake:
history's horror and us, on board.




A famous photographer has bought
a nearby estate, the one next
to where the President's daughter
got married. This place is a dump,
but there's hope. Let's be pretty!

Or pretty enough for those with
landscaped breasts and burned-
smoothed faces. Let's cut into dark.
The surgeon's light makes eyes
flash in the night. Hello, Foxes!

Inside is a surprise of stray cats.
The night's tissue's a tangle
of woods. Let's manipulate this fascia 
of roots to make the dark seem less—
how to say it?—ancient. Too un-

catered event. Everything's getting
messy. Suction, please. Irony,
our instrument, is habitual
and appropriate for national tragedies
and the wealthy. It's best for national

tragedies that don't affect the wealthy
directly, except financially,
for the positive, ultimately. 
But everyone must laugh!
Look how we've strayed! Like cats!

So let's sew everything up.
Let's make the dark dark again.
Turn off the lights and look at how
the woods, its nerves now cut,
reflect the wine-loosed mind,

the kind under event tents with
down payment to secure sun
to its setting. If you imagine
your nerves cut too, the expanse holds
a moment—of what? I dos. Truly,

beautiful. Black-eyed Susans at times.
Sweet grass cool and, when
the incision heels, sweet smelling.
Crickets chirp with proper
syncopation, good evening.




The plastic tube taped to her arm
was to her vein as a clown nose is

Her starved body was a line between
two points as LOCUTION is to me

Her flesh, coming off OxyContin,
was ineffable. Her flesh, as if straddling
two tenses, was tense.

I watched her in the hospital bed.
TACITURN was to her audience

was to me, me being her audience
in every sense. I planned to move.
I plan to move

again, studying analogies for the GRE
test. ASSUAGE is to pain-killers as

is to painkilling in a context not
covered on the test. She was family.
She is family.

She was TRYING. I was TRUCU-
LENT but polite. Not speaking,
I studied

my GRE analogies to leave my family.
She was trying to LAMENT. There are
no jobs.

There was no money. I study
ABNEGATION. Her flesh, moving
from her skeleton,

lay on the bed. The burn ward was near.
It smelled of medicine. OBJURGATE
is listed under words

for "Criticize/Criticism." I earn a stipend
in school. She's on disability. She's
less educated,

supposedly. If got another Ph.D.,
I could have a stipend again. She

I must study her withdrawal
to understand why I'm ITINERANT.
Wandering to a new

degree, I'm only acceptable when
I believe PROBITY shapes the futures
of some. She's still

in pain, being chronically ill.
She suffers from PRIVATION,
but I will say

otherwise when, rather than selling
my blood, I have a job and also
a theory about her

to recite. She will not be
INSCRUTABLE but knowable,
and I will be ERUDITE.








For several years, I studied pastorals, US slavery, and nineteenth-century British imperialism. While immersed in these subjects, I sometimes struggled to speak to other people. These poems come out of that struggle. Books that influenced my thinking include Hannah Crafts' The Bondswoman's Narrative, Elaine Freedgood's The Ideas in Things, John Keene's Counternarratives, and Walter Johnson's River of Dark Dreams.