John Sibley Williams - "Baptismal," "Variations of a New Dam," and "Railyard at Rest."

Baptismal

 

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

 

I.

 

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.

 

II.

 

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.

 

III.

 

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.

 

IV.

 

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

and forget.

 

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 CultureRaving Dove, and Ghoti.

 

Posted on December 7, 2013 .