The sloping trees overhead wear black vultures
lamenting that some men don’t kill as often as others,
their act of being freed translating differently
in the seconds after a river’s submersion,
pristine white robes fanning across the surface
as in a river the sun reflects abnormally pure,
some saint’s ridiculously glamorous shield.
The cold water rushes like a dream of God
over face after face, that appear dead
until plucked as olives might in Peloponnesian fields.
Branches pass. Branches fallen by storm and axe.
Branches tortoises recline upon, eyes closed,
adopting not breaking the current.
And stones pass. And sediment mucked from movement.
And the gunshots of newly awoken hunting season
volley through the valley-heightened winds.
And I witnessing these varied salvations
from a dry perch just between
know which sound enraptures the vultures
but must crane my ear to water’s surface
to pray that second command emerges.
Variations of a New Dam
Old enough to remember like silt
how water permeated the valley,
the maples shedding orange upon a surface
that never knew itself temporary
so never counted the swimmers, canoes,
never waited as we do our breath
that pair of feet sunk cold and deep
that would be its last.
I try to imagine
how different the angels’ deeds
if motivated by desperation,
if racing backwards from death,
if they saw in their statues and hymns
an evolutionary replacement, like politicians
sensing their demise in the need for stone.
But there is a need to remember
and to quarrel and forget: stone.
And a lake be no different
than the boy, that distant year in my youth,
who vanished in its perfect blue,
but that water wasn’t expecting
one day to drown,
and the boy in death
never brought power to our town.
Railyard at Rest
Miles of boxcars yawning back at winter,
saggy-bough pine breathed, blood of an upended turtle.
Doors frozen open, lacquered in rust and time,
so bored from only hearing their own stories
echoing back, night upon night,
giving their lives over to the myth
that objects in motion remain so eternally,
unconvincingly masquerading the distant lightning’s rumble
as a scorching, jostling Chicago-bound rail
and the static winter horizon
the onrush of another gray city.
I will give her only what can so easily be recanted
and feed her artichoke hearts and wine and words
visibly smoky and solvent, spoken side-mouthed
as I eye a vast, inert desert of exposed metal.
Half the promises made them
swallowed before quite reaching their ears.
Half their lives already spent
like half this shared March night,
and I can reclaim one, my love, as unerringly as the other.
I remember aerial photographs
of great Eastern cities like Pittsburgh
striped by dead trains perfectly aligned head-to-foot
like the paused moment before a calamitous highway wreck
or a timeless orgy of motley dragonflies.
I remember quivering even then,
anticipating the theme would be rubble.
Red fires. Blue fires. Yellow fires.
Each staking their claims in some great toxic feast.
And even by declining that grotesque invitation
to leap instead headlong into a river from childhood
and stroke upstream toward the narcotic of fairytales and heavens,
still all rivers flowed toward a cliff
and at some point soon I would eat from its table.
Feasting like candles do darkness,
I would carve a long circle back
and rub my chapped hands over a vision
I once feared Apocalypse and now I dream of,
as a timeworn boxcar might-
the vivacious, unfaltering colors of plastic flowers.
For cedar and books and eagles and home
all approach and teeter unbalanced upon the cliff
but never quite plummet.
They’ve banned us from traversing this graveyard,
in case dead metal might envy our breath.
So unbalanced, separated from smell and taste,
I must watch from a nearby outcrop
to see the completion of a circle
that they taught would wind on forever.
Miles of boxcars, corpses lining the city edges.
Forbidden to enter its limits. Fanning out and out
into the country. Hillocks flattened.
Marshes paved gray. So our collections,
famed for their dust and consumptive rigor mortis,
can propagate like wisdoms
continually transformed through each mouth spoken,
lest we consider what we horde human
and bury them moments after passing
John Sibley Williams has an MA in Writing and lives in Boston, where he frequently performs his poetry. Some of his over thirty publications include: The Evansville Review, Flint Hills Review, Cadillac Cicatrix, Juked, The Journal, Barnwood International Poetry, Phantasmagoria, The Alembic, Language and Culture, Raving Dove, and Ghoti.