Poetry: John Sibley Williams

Even the gods

sell flowers during rush hour traffic, gripping tight
the divider so everyone entering or leaving the city can see
their browning stalks. After all, we all have to make a living
somehow. & it’s good to remember the gods too take comfort in dead
& dying things. When I poke the flightless, folded-back-on-themselves wings
of a roadside sparrow, when a new country’s flag borrows its symbols
from failed former flags, when we say better them than us but really mean
dear god, let our end be unending, when on the lip of death my mother prayed
for just one more tortured breath, when knowing we are building altars to nothing
doesn’t slow our hands, I tell myself the gods pawning cheap tulips in this pandemonium
of comings & goings are as desperate, as stained with waiting, as inseparable
from place & time: products of their era. & as terrified of being forgotten. They know
there is no such thing as perennial.



Oxygen, fire,

one feeding the other. You can tell by how long it takes a bullet
to pass through a child’s chest the circumference

of our forgetting. There are open wounds & wounds that open
to vast green horse-filled fields. I know they say

we need the darkness to bask fully in the light, that if sin
then god, & as a tree still standing who am I

to argue controlled burning with the ashen? If we cut off
the air, the flame, a forest grows wild. War always

keeps its promises. One body feeds another, which has no
idea it’s as edible, deliciously necessary, already being



So the sky moves,

a star filled with sky
up there in it. Still,
not really a microcosm.
My breath, for example,
doesn’t mirror so much
as cloud the gasps & awe […]

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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 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, Third Coast, and various anthologies.

Read More: A brief interview with John Sibley Williams