john sibley williams
That shape against the dawn, fogged
in by nightstorm, humidity, valley,
could be any delinquent structure. A
neighbor's burnt-out barn, an oil rig
pecking away at the earth like some
automated bird that can't get its fill,
a boarded-up factory, a church. Our
house sits on a trembling lip of hill
that yawns deep down another slope
into city. I forget its name. I forget
why we're still here. Cattails, saw-
grass. A burial ground of tractors.
Dawn's dull blades swipe at the fog
until I can see what's left of the life
my grandfather promised. It's all so
lifelike, & he's gone. Bird clusters,
contrails of bird flight. & I begin to
ask why, & fall silent, & know.
let the snow speak for us
Instead of angels or men, we make
from roadside snow a house just big
enough to fit the world. & we crawl
in. Imaginary trains pass imaginary
stations without stopping to pick up
imaginary families waiting years in
the cold for a homebound transfer.
Cities rise up, blackened by exhaust
& yellowed by strays. Cities rise up
briefly brilliant, then gone. The rest,
I'm pretty sure, is as real as we can
make it. Flag hoisted just shy of sky
winter-bleached around the edges
descending to half-mast. Powerline
& steeple binding homes together
like last year's burnt out Christmas
lights. Our mothers & in some cases
our fathers too. Imaginary brother &
a bedroom preserved to the smallest
detail. A small white house carved
into the cliff of a winter road that
winds up to an imaginary cemetery.
Beneath all this freezing, a country
as permanent as anything that thaws
beneath a bit of sun. Thousands of
finches somewhere just south of us
readying for return.
Like the smallest in a set of Russian
dolls, the one that cannot open to
reveal another, or like storm clouds
after the storm has passed. Latticed
white with frost, grayed by exhaust.
More than anything, it's turning out,
now that the grief is gone, to be less
lack than overabundance of. If our
child is gone, normality, the world
as it once was, & so forth. So many
rivers crisscrossed by bridges, cities
laced in lights, average impossible
struggles, small white pains where
old wounds heal into new. & deep
wine-dark nights giving answers to
unasked questions. & the questions
just there, inches from our mouths.
& the cure for prayer, as it turns out,
is to pray more often but with less
sincerity. The best way to repair an
old broken road, they keep saying,
is to build another right on top of it.
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.