Eventually the sun licks the white off a hung dress. All gods turn to violence to retain their lost worship. A wounded dog seeks comfort in the call & unresponse of its master. & the men we promised we’d never grow into multiply in the bathroom mirror. Let us start with the fact a cesarean scar implies both genesis & denouement. That a single gesture can bring a country to its knees or lift it from servitude. My son at the beginning resembled the end of my infancy. My grandfather once said we’re only as old as our complicity. There is a monument to a Confederate general still riding his stone horse into an integrated school & another down the road dismantling. The first time you see it, a barn fire at dawn can break your heart. Eventually perhaps I’ll get a taste for all this waning.
If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them? —Chief Seattle, 1894
You could fold this paper into any kind of animal,
launder a constitution until the language blears;
illegible, which is to say you can remake a country
in your own image without knowing what
you look like to others. Silent in its frame,
a body can be spent like any currency. Beads,
for example, bartered for an island. Or blankets.
Small pox. Invitations to a feast. Almost nothing
can be abandoned without first being held; tightly,
for example, a narrative. Or water, withheld.
I’m somewhere out there too, entangled in my own narrative. Not lost, exactly, but still a good distance from being found or finding. Froth & foam. Fatherhood. Language. Obsessions: I know in comparison mine seem less grand, less ungodly & god-like, like chasing fireflies in a field overlit by stars. Like grinding lies against lies until a few sparks burn true. Then handing those to my son so he can see me in the dark when I’m gone. Just replace harpoon with whiskey, with unending packs of cigarettes meant to keep eternity at bay; the self-doubt woven through love. Replace drowning with living a long life landlocked between words & everything I cannot make them mean. I know nets aren’t meant to hold the wind, but what else would you call this empty billow? It’s okay if there never was a whale or fireflies to snare & pull closer. It’s okay if in the end my son forgets me. We all see what we need to see to keep that fire lit, to embrace the world by pursuing it a bit too far.
-- 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 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, Columbia Poetry Review, Mid-American Review, Poetry Northwest, Third Coast, and various anthologies. He lives in Portland, Oregon.