Wild Court

An international poetry journal based in the English Department of King’s College London

Two poems by Paul Stephenson

Photo of Tbilisi by Eugene Chystiakov on Unsplash


Climbing Tbilisi


Above the brick-domed baths of Abanotubani, rare trees ache with invasion and enemy grab.
City spreads, leavened and rising like khachapuri, its rooftops woven, a red and brown kilim.
In the butterflied grasses, local teens lay about making out in telescopic view of the billionaire,

his hilltop helipad and gleaming condo rich in the business of balcony. We make fairy steps
across the abyss———a slatted bridge that sways, its rusted frame squeaking like the Tin Man,
until the dirt path forks and we are drawn by the caw of crows. Homing in, we assume a flock,

but only close-up do we process what cannot take flight: amphibians ample in raucous chorus,
the bloated mob stepping over each other. In a raised concrete pond, the frogs are puffed up,
crap-loud, a bulbous hubbub of throat-throttle, croaking for a mate and many in swollen song.


The Mid-Morning Dictator, Gori


We climb the carpet of the museum that’s a museum of a museum, towards the chandelier, amazed our driver, Gaga, whose only word of English is Guinness, has never been. In unheated palace halls buffed floorboards creak with clip-board hordes doing gap-fills. Our guide, Tamara, reveals this household name had high grades, admits he made mistakes, says this and that are true, that he wrote poems in his youth, and how people still raise a glass to toast him. I caress a marble door frame, transfer the cold sheen to my cheek. The walls are crowded with rows of seated, fur-coated leaders, their smiles and massacre of zeros. Zooming in on his fat moustache, I think about how gulag sounds, like glug and glue and lagging pipes, admire the gifts kept behind glass: Italian best wishes, Ciao Giuseppe, small red clogs sent from Holland. Tamara pulls an electric candle out her jacket pocket, lights up the death mask with a steady flicker. On leaving, we shake Tamara’s hand, give thanks and compliments, forget to tip her. She insists we don’t miss the green armour-plated Pullman carriage weighing eighty-three tons, a fact that seems key to remember, which is when I spot him again, the cobbler’s son – there ahead, giant outside the main municipal building, staring on.


(Author’s note: Gaga is the diminutive for Georgi.)