Poetry: Oppenheimer, Pompeii, and Optimism



A winter olive grove sculptured like death-
distorted bodies. Pale light in the trees. An outline of lost
children in the paleness, though not in the light. Tears of stone

emerge from angels frozen to walls. Against them
my face stands translucent / my smallest gestures
multiply and mean.

/ apart from eternity nothing here isn’t ash /

Beside me, a daughter imprisoned
in her mother’s arms. For a moment
I am the boy whose limbs cannot / break
or move.

And there are dogs
forever fetal, almost unborn / all
around me / what I think
are men being converted
into music. I can play white
through their mouths / through the echo
of their screams / white through their teeth
forever snarled at the heavens.




Mother we call the nourishing earth, the unbroken
cradle, the raw and refined works
outside us. Whatever water follows the river
without belonging to it can be traced
to that primitive art of holding another
over your heart, then releasing. Son

and daughter and lover and home, how purified
we emerge from having expressed
and meant them, as if some great voice said
and erased all other verbs.

Mother we call the beauty in
what cannot be possessed,
and father, where are you
but in the violence it takes
to create her?


Our children do not listen anymore.

The clay has spun free
of the potter’s wheel. […]

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John Sibley Williams is the author of eight collections, most recently
Controlled Hallucinations (FutureCycle Press, 2013). Four-time Pushcart nominee, he is the winner of the HEART Poetry Award and has been a finalist for the Rumi, Best of the Net, and The Pinch Poetry Prizes. John serves as editor of The Inflectionist Review and Board Member of the Friends of William Stafford. A few previous publishing credits include: American Literary Review, Third Coast, Nimrod International Journal, Rio Grande Review, Inkwell, Cider Press Review, Bryant Literary Review, Cream City Review, RHINO, and various anthologies. He lives in Portland, Oregon.