JOHN

SIBLEY WILLIAMS

John Sibley Williams authored As One Fire Consumes Another (Orison Poetry Prize, 2019), Skin Memory (Backwaters Prize, University of Nebraska Press, 2019), Summon (JuxtaProse Chapbook Prize, 2019), Disinheritance and Controlled Hallucinations. Awards include the Wabash Prize for Poetry, Philip Booth Award, Phyllis Smart-Young Prize, and Laux/Millar Prize. Editor of The Inflectionist Review, John’s published in Yale Review, Verse Daily, North American Review, Midwest Quarterly, Southern Review, Sycamore Review, Prairie Schooner, Saranac Review, Atlanta Review, TriQuarterly and more.

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FIRST OCEAN

 

Before [we] close

our eyes to see

what night asks [us]

to let go 

— Craig Santos Perez

                Wondrous, not yet
        polluted by beauty // the skeletal


shipwrecks as men [we’ll] hang our children from
by the wrists in photos to prove something


                 about lineage today swim
 

the shallows making nests for fish // before vow
-wels & consonants break seeing apart like rice in water //

before undertows, deprived of, all that longing for
a return to the impossible // before believing

                with our hands steepled over cold
      bodies already shedding their names // this is

 

                the story [we’ll] forget; this is //

a story [we’ll] remember nooseless, hyphenated only by seabirds //

before the anchor’s hesitation, an overcast of doubt

-ful clouds // before [we] learn to call it prayer: this


                          loving //

sprigs of early morning light reach down to us
without pricking: hurt // [we] walk into the sea //

 

into what we don’t yet know is a sea // strapped
to our mothers’ chests // unbalanced, shivering, alive

HOODIE

Not that pitch-black darkness

the night wears as vellum broken

                so briefly by stars.

Not the kind of agency that allows
a boy to write his own story on a canvas
crowded by so many less dangerous stories.

 

Not a reason, they say, to run
        or stay put or raise your arms or not;

                        —for what it’s worth,

that wasn’t a trigger finger
cocked at the birds nesting on the power
lines above the cruiser. Not a stolen
cellphone in his pocket. Nothing unholstered.
Just a swath of picked cotton dyed black to
                                resemble a heart

after it’s learned the cost of loving so freely
or the full weight of trajectory.
                         Or both things

                                 —equally.

THE SCIENCE OF SOUND

for Marcelo Hernandez Castillo

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Because it takes time

       for the sound

       to reach us

 

                       

                what we’ve witnessed

            is already in the past.

 

Questioned. Digested. Forgiven.

 

 

We don’t even remember

        what we’re meant

        to do, having lost

 

                 so much in the interim.

 

             To save face, we shriek, cover

             our eyes, feign blindness.

 

We bathe ourselves in light. We say light

 

            is the form things take

         after all the dying is done.

 

& because all the dying is never done, we ask night

            & in its silence ask our hands

            & in their idleness stop asking

                                               altogether.

 

 

Call it wound—

Call it echo—

            shame

 

Because our ears never close

 

                the past keeps ringing out

            dark & true, this tired field

                never quite hushed.

ALL EMPIRES END

That every fact’s at odds with another

makes this a bit easier to swallow. & that

most hungers aren’t instinct. I’m sure there’s

a word for that time of day not even

the light makes sense or how holding

certain phrases in the mouth too long

means you can no longer speak them

truthfully. Sometimes the myth a man makes

for himself unites the warring tribes

in us all. Sometimes, our undoing.

This may not be how it happens. Still.

If a mirage is meant to trick us toward

the undrinkable. As heaven. As we drink.

Right here, between the sincere & what we’ve

learned to accept as sincere, as between hands

balled into what could be punishment or prayer

or both at once, a country chaws off limb

after limb to save what some of us believe,

sincerely I think, a redeemable whole.

DOMESTIC DIVINATION

             The dousing rods do their magic

 & all of a sudden the ghosts that have always been here made semi-
                                     visible converse as rivers
                                  buried beneath the earth converse with the earth.


                                                                             We are not the earth

               in this scene, not its scarcity or bounty, just the tremor
            that traces a length of spine when everything you thought lost


                                   brushes the cobwebs from its mouth & speaks.

& we are not really listening, just trying to ask the right questions

                                                                 this time.

                   & we are still not sorry.

                                    As a teacup rockets across the room, shatters
                                  against the wall, rains down curses, it’s easier now

                                    that we have someone else

                                                               to blame.