Poetry by John Sibley Williams

Read More: A Brief interview with John Sibley Williams

Fog

and the cranes resting over unfinished houses
and the houses, the lights left on in them, the river, all
drift off like the signature completing a suicide note.

Dear
those who will love me more in my absence,

Dear you who will forget what I looked like,

Last night I was a drawbridge,

 Last night I was the fog swallowing
a drawbridge

 For the first time, this morning I could see you
through the fog as a drawbridge sees the ship
that breaks it in two.

 Into the silence, jackhammers and invisible grinding.
Voices within voices. Even without light I know dawn
is running through the city and the larger city beneath it.

If destruction hinges on what is beautiful
in making, let my soul my body collapse
into roots something foundational.

Now that I’m awake, it’s time to carve up the day
into hour and progress. Into dig and follow. It doesn’t matter
that I can’t see what I know to be there.

Only after the body is gone do words come freely.
I am sorry and you are sorry and I think I love
that we don’t know what for.

It’s as if through cloudy glass three stories above the rooftops
The sky and city alloy. Ghost ships pass through the cathedrals.
Skyscrapers bellow for the bridge to part.
There are still things that need

to be said.

 

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Death is a Work in Progress

My mother says fox while gesturing toward an old red wagon abandoned in our yard for decades. A word so cavernous her entire body vanishes into it. Body of misfiring electrons. Scattered images, contexts. Body that is mainly just body now. No other animal knows how to be this incomplete. I think: if you were a fox coyotes would have eaten you by now. I say: yes, I’ll climb into that fox and let you pull me through the high grass one more time.


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Skin Memory

“I have begun to understand that the Inupiaq language itself is a form of resilience, that poems are a form of resilience.” – Joan Naviyuk Kane

Because you are what song breaks open your throat and because the same century burns a different mark into me. For now I can just listen. To how choreographed our forgetting. To the dark little narratives of this is mine / yours, in that order. Can you sing this country its name? […]


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St Helens [1980]

Sometimes deer stop returning to the river to drink. Just like that. Ash lacquers the surface for a few months and over the bodies it compresses into a kind of stone. Funereal, the sky returns to those Biblical days our grandparents recounted over our tightened eyes, feigning sleep. When we dreamed it was always of this. Of them, angry gods. Of constant featureless night. And still. Perhaps it’s true: I haven’t lost much recently, at least compared to the deer that won’t be here when the water cleanses itself blue again. I’d like to say we are a patient people, a stone people, that something good will come from waiting for the sun to reemerge to lengthen our shadows.


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John Sibley Williams is the editor of two Northwest poetry anthologies and the author of nine collections, including Disinheritance and Controlled Hallucinations. A seven-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, Arts & Letters, Columbia Poetry Review, Mid-American Review, Poetry Northwest, Third Coast, and various anthologies. He lives in Portland, Oregon.

 “Fog,” “St. Helens [1980],” “Death is a Work in Progress,” and “Skin Memory,” were runners-up in the 2017 Editor’s Reprint award and originally appeared in American Literary Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Redivider, and Salt Hill, respectively.

Read More: A Brief interview with John Sibley Williams