Poetry / Poets / Writers / Writing

Poems by John Sibley Williams


Though it is deep
unreturnable winter,
I am told to open
all the windows
in this room of too many

Snowflakes beat themselves senseless
against your moon-blanched face
and in melting smother
the ritual candles
we’ve left burning all day,
all night, and will reuse
soon enough.

Something like prayer
but without the certainty
flutters aimlessly between us
with no place to land.

Our breath is the air
and the air is opaque.

There is a fever-pitched giving
and an inevitable taking.

Forbidden, the cold light
we’re left with
hurts the stars
and the stars aren’t
in your hair

Father writes “open”
on your forehead in ash
while I trace “tomorrow”
on the white sheet
of your eyes
going still.



Can I say that a child died inside us
when all we have conceived is a name
for what could be?

We’ve built a cradle of nails and wood
to house a body too busy dying
to rest, a trophy of grief
we polish in case of tomorrow.

Yet still he cannot see through
the eyes I tried to give him.

My mother has woven a shroud
to warm the son, blue for the sky
and gold for its promise, black
around the edges to resemble
the distances between them.

Our friends have their mantra
the world will wait for you
and we have our reply
spelled out in silence.


This body, I can
only pronounce its shadow.
The rest we have taken
as a necessary silence;
his name buried deep
in the organ’s rusty refrain,
his legacy clasped between
two hundred steepled hands,
his flight away from us etched
into someone else’s book,
his voice drowned out by the praise
that is just another wall
in a house, like any other,
erected on undesigned earth.


John Sibley Williams is the author of eight collections, most recently Controlled Hallucinations (FutureCycle Press, 2013). Four-time Pushcart nominee, he is the winner of the HEART Poetry Award and has been a finalist for the Rumi, Best of the Net, and The Pinch Poetry Prizes. John serves as editor of The Inflectionist Review and Board Member of the Friends of William Stafford. A few previous publishing credits include: American Literary Review, Third Coast, Nimrod International Journal, Rio Grande Review, Inkwell, Cider Press Review, Bryant Literary Review, Cream City Review, RHINO, and various anthologies. He lives in Portland, Oregon.



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