2 Poems — John Sibley Williams


As if catching a moth between two
cupped hands, her yet-to-be-broken
father holds her head above a sick-
bed stained with a century’s illness.
Through the winter window, fields
of blackened lungs hack up another
morning cold enough to seep inside.
His hands mainly soot, still mainly
coal dust. Still he says something
about finding god deep inside a
body’s toil. Then he says resist its
light, writhe and thrash and flee the
harness of eternity; he says stay.
He swipes away a halo of flies. That
cold bowl of white earth just keeps
hardening. Where the ribcage rusts,
an old song rattles loose. Her mouth
is dry. All sparks refuse their flint.
The cracks in the ceiling arrange
into a map. No countries on it. Just
a dense tome of sky where stories
either begin or end, or neither. As
he reads from it they see the lines
go on and on until finally crossing
each other out.



“The memories of men are too frail
a thread to hang history from.”
~John Still, The Jungle Tide

Slumped over the shoulders of these
broken horses a few dead men wear
their bodies like roads wear rain.
Just a brief heaviness hobbling them
to the surface of the world. Then
vapor. Nothing much to own now.
Steam columns off the saunter and
sway of beast and body like incense
choking the aisle between pews.
Not much sky overhead, or need for
sky with so many holes unfilled all
around us. Impossible to know the
color of the dead, but my great-
great-great grandfather is driving
them all into a gunmetal distance.
Mountains move to the side as they
pass, wolf not far behind. Dry
streambeds and snarled oak and all
the required awe such a scene
should evoke. I am in awe of where
we came from, that there is nothing
that fails to share my name.


John Sibley Williams is the editor of two Northwest poetry anthologies and the author of nine collections, including Disinheritance and Controlled Hallucinations. A ten-time Pushcart nominee, John is the winner of numerous awards, including the Philip Booth Award, American Literary Review Poetry Contest, Nancy D. Hargrove Editors’ Prize, Confrontation Poetry Prize, and Vallum Award for Poetry. He serves as editor of The Inflectionist Review and works as a literary agent. Previous publishing credits include: The Yale Review, Midwest Quarterly, Sycamore Review, Prairie Schooner, The Massachusetts Review, Poet Lore, Saranac Review, Atlanta Review, TriQuarterly, Columbia Poetry Review, Mid-American Review, Poetry Northwest, Third Coast, and various anthologies. He lives in Portland, Oregon.