This isn’t how I’m told halos work.
Two mock suns lighting up the low
horizon, as if competing for grace-
giving, as if at war with each other.
The borders of their brief bodies
converging in one great arc flanking
then eclipsing the real. An imagined
architecture of virtue. A pure white
history. Torchlight flickers & feasts,
flickers & feasts, flickers & feasts.
Whatever men think they stand for,
the old gods are toppling.
A Hole in the Light is a Hole & is Light
Extinct, without first making its way through
threatened, endangered, protected; worse,
we never had the time to admire our empathy. No
viral campaign, no documentaries
or great ships curling up into northern seas to beg
a Japanese whaler to sheath its harpoons.
This is the kind of promise we just might keep.
A photograph broken into customary thirds:
man, the cherished object he’s holding, background.
No animal comes right out & asks for it,
but I’m pretty sure we can read their absent songs
as just that, as in this overabundance of beauty
there was no more room to put it anyway,
as a father’s death can mean
just that: both I’m sorry, so sorry, truly & now
there’s a bit more air for me to breathe.
Now winter devours everything
left unharvested. & like it or not,
the dead still don’t speak from
the candles we’ve lit for them.
In hindsight, that stuffed man
crucified over our garden never
kept the crows from the seedlings.
Everything outlives everything else.
This catalog of no-longer-believed-in
gods has gotten us this far. The map
on the back of my mother’s hands
turned out to be veins raised bluely
by chemo. Still it was something
to follow, something with an end.
I hear rail service is finally returning
to our emptied little town. Is it true music
pressed flat into echo is what keeps this
wide white world, if not inhabited, habitable?
All the names of all the men,
especially the forgotten, are here at our kitchen table asking
for something they can taste. Our mouths perform
the usual rituals: tear into, grind, swallow, then recount
exaggerated narratives of how we spent our days. We listen
for pauses long enough to interject, pivot attention our way. The dead have
nothing to offer but stories. & names. The names
they offer could be anyone’s aunts or uncles, lovers, murderers,
children. They no longer belong to just one
body, one inimitable life. Not that we give them the time it takes
to be re-remembered, mourned, properly mourned,
which in some cultures means celebrated. We are a moving-on kind
of people. A let sleeping dogs lie kind of people.
This house, this one room in this one house, at just this moment:
that is our axis of orbit. Not a philosophy but gesture.
Not a history, just ghosts. Without names. Only when I’m asking
for forgiveness do I call the absence beside me father.
A History of Skin
I’ve played out the Cowboy/Indian
narrative by myself in dark wooded
corners where trees hold each other
so damn tight the sky erases itself. I
remember beating my t-shirt against
rocks to get the blood out, how dirt
brown the stains set, how stone isn’t
the best salve. Turn a switch around
& spear becomes rifle, son turns to
man. Please bury me like this, I said
to no one who could hear me. Gray
as bathwater, as the palette between
skins, one not really mine, the light
passed through a thousand branches
before failing to find me. I opened
& closed. If every good story begins
with a lie, this is mine: once a boy
who played both sides of slaughter
returned home with a bloody shirt &
thought that would absolve him.
John Sibley Williams is the author of As One Fire Consumes Another (Orison Poetry Prize, 2019), Skin Memory (Backwaters Prize, 2019), Disinheritance, and Controlled Hallucinations. An eleven-time Pushcart nominee, John is the winner of numerous awards, including the Philip Booth Award, American Literary Review Poetry Contest, Phyllis Smart-Young Prize, The 46er Prize, Nancy D. Hargrove Editors' Prize, Confrontation Poetry Prize, and Laux/Millar Prize. 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.