Stephen Wilson

Stephen Wilson

Stephen Wilson is a psychiatrist turned critic and writer, who has lived and worked in Oxford, UK, for many years. He has published two collections of poems, Fluttering Hands and Things Hard for Thought. He is also the author of brief biographical studies of the first world war poet Isaac Rosenberg, and Sigmund Freud. In addition he has written The Bloomsbury Book of the Mind, Introducing the Freud Wars, The Cradle of Violence: Essays on Psychiatry, Psychoanalysis and Literature and a major study of modern Anglo-Jewish poetry, Poetics of the Diaspora. He has contributed numerous reviews and articles to academic journals and newspapers including Encounter, TLS, The Guardian, The Independent and New York Times. He translated Irène Némirovsky’s The Pawn on the Chessboard and The Child Prodigy from French. His most recent publication is “Study on the Szaszophone: Theme and variations” in Thomas Szasz: An Appraisal of his Legacy, Ed. C.V. Haldipur et al (2019) Oxford University Press.

Alexandrian Duet

They say what’s in my head is a waste of space,
I’d have it out now, if I could,
And fill the cavity with something worth while –
Your bed-linen, for example, or the screwed-up
Papyrus you were writing on yesterday,
Could it have been a love-poem?
As it is, I’ll have to wait. They can put a hook
Up my nose after I’m dead, cribble my brain,
Yank the whole lot out to feed the jackals,
It’d be a relief. This may be too much to ask,
But I’d like it to be your fragrant hands
That reach in to harvest my liver and lungs,
Jar up my guts, lave the inner surface
Of my abdomen with oil, freshly pressed
from the fruit of that red palm, whose leaves
I’ve often noticed, just outside the window
Above your bed. I don’t trust the sons of Horus.
If there’s sod all in one’s head, what difference
Human, baboon or falcon? Being disembowelled,
Even for a short period, isn’t something to relish …

But if it’s necessary for the sake of future fitness,
I’ll go along with it; don’t over-stuff me though,
So that I look obese. I don’t want to look or smell
Like that putrefying heap of garbage, Wakhakwi,
I’ve caught him giving you the eye on more
Than one occasion. That’s a joke we should keep
To ourselves. I’d rather be drained on a board,
Cleansed with natron like a well-scrubbed table.
And for the record, you’ll be in my giant scarab
Of a heart, scented with myrrh and cinnamon,
Which I hope you don’t forget to put back inside,
For every one of those forty days and nights.
Death’s not anything really, well only a nuisance
Your way, because it’s such a to-do, all that
Wrapping and gluing. I don’t need protection,
Especially by some hairless priests. There’s nothing
more powerful than our love. Let’s say
I’m confident soul and body will be reunited,
Just as we shall always be together, my cock’s
Jutting like a god’s at the mere thought of it.

Ah! beloved griffin, forget the organ in your head
That’s only good for oozing rheum –
Do you recall, general, how I cast my spell at Tarsus,
Hexed you, when you thought to conquer me,
Right under Ra’s golden nose? They say his bones
Shook with laughter, dripped melted silver on my oars,
When he saw me clip your wings. Had you been Wakhakwi,
I wouldn’t have risked the Cydnus under purple sail,
Reclined like Aphrodite, fanned by beautiful boys.
Would I have dressed my maidens as Sea-nymphs,
Had them work the galley to the sound of flute and harp,
Perfumed the vessel with Metopion? At sunset,
When a bouquet of cardamom hung in the air,
Supped you under a panoply of lights, hidden in tall trees
Like a flock of cockatoos? We banqueted on heron,
Roasted wild swan, spiced with cumin and coriander,
Onion globes like giants’ testicles, to stimulate the appetite;
Pomegranate, water melon, dates and grapes and figs.
In our cups, I took your ear by surprise with ribald jokes,
Oh yes! The Queen of Egypt understood Marc Antony.

What say we roll the dice tonight, and if you lose,
I’ll almond-shape your eyes with Mesdemet,
Wear a mask myself and dress in rags?
We’ll bare our chests and carry castanets,
No one will know it’s us. They’ll think we’re
Drunken low-lives on the razzle or dancers
From a pageant having fun. You have to mime
A hippopotamus, I’ll ride you down the Nile,
Carouse the town. Then you can smack your lips,
Unhinge jaws, creep slowly in the sand
Like a hungry crocodile, and I’ll play scared.
No doubt you’ll pick a quarrel in the street,
You always do, as if it’s in your blood,
Like fighting fowl or bulls that lock horns,
Or maybe it’s just Romans, what do you think?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m fond of men who brawl;
It’s like erotic art, it turns me on. And afterward
We’ll rollick home, I’ll clean your wounds,
Massage aching muscles with henna oil,
Share a bath with you in ass’s milk.

Published in Things Hard for Thought, Lamad Vav Press, (2013)


The boats are old men
who never stop moaning.
I am an old man.
The boats are autistic children
who never stop rocking.
I am an autistic child.
The boats are tied in
with stern-lines.
The children are tongue-tied.
The old men creak with tiredness.
Sometimes we all
bang spoons on the table,
tinkle high pitched bells,
tread on each other’s toes.
I am making a catalogue of groans.
I will ask the masts to listen.
I will take away their crosstrees.
I will apply wire-cutters to their stays.
I will remove their antennae,
their wind instruments, their cruising lights.
Tomorrow I will bring them down.

Published in Fluttering Hands, Greenwich Exchange (2008)

The Language of Small Fishing Boats

At sundown
a floating four-poster,
candy-striped awning
moving slowly over the water,
drowning the sea’s gossip
with the pluck pluck pluck
of its engine.

Another one astern
tutting repeatedly
as it hands out nets
like food-aid for starving fish.
After dark the Touretter
comes out, rehearsing
a soliloquy of fucks.

Published in Fluttering Hands, Greenwich Exchange (2008)

Poetry in this post: © Stephen Wilson
Published with the permission of Stephen Wilson