John Sibley Williams


John Sibley Williams is the author of eight collections, most recently Controlled Hallucinations (Future Cycle 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.


Quiet now. As this skin
that’s always been paper
tears a bit further from bone.
Only a gutterful of leafs,
motley autumn colors,
a few aimless clouds—all stuck
where the wind has blown them.
Say the sky is a different species
once we come to know it differently.
Yes, say it’s just us. But say it low,
without echo.
That constellations freed from context
are only wisps of candle colding
between our hands. The stories
we’ve crafted into truth are enough
to say we know truth. Sometimes
silence forgets how to be silent
and night casts shadows without object
or light. Tomorrow is the last
first day of winter—shh
I am leaving soon.


There and not there,
your young body lost
in a flurry of wheat fields.
As memories dim
only their landscapes endure.

In the corner of your eye,
a prairie falcon still burns
through valley-bound clouds.
You cannot unremember
those nests made of mouths and
tiny screams from the bottlebrush,
carried off.

There are mountains buttressing
other mountains, in the hazy distance
fires that clear the way for autumn.
But you are nowhere in it.

Your mother’s prayers, there at the edges.
Your sisters’ broken toys, intact again.

When you’re reminded there was a river
thick with perch that bent
under your childhood
window and trailed off
at the horizon,
you cry.

Then you tremble
with laughter
and I tremble
with you.

The sky so small
catching up to us.


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.


A panic of finches rises and tonight
the late salmon moon is filled

with rivers and old shadows. Reflected,
iridescing, an amalgam of real

and fabled light. I rub grains of wood and cloud
between my hands and stretch from the grass

into a grandmotherly story of angels,
their necessary demons, and how little

it takes for the one to climb or descend into
the other. This is what she told me before

she climbed or descended. The distance from us was
the same. This is how she explained where I’d gone

and am going.

My hands don’t remember much anymore
of where the birds have flown. There are felled trees

in the sky. The moon’s face drifts across the river.
And I miss the hard geometries of coffins.


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