Two Poems

by John Sibley Williams


The Candescence

—Drumming my fingers over that flame,

which I think means stay awhile longer,
though after all these years I still cannot be sure

if it’s the world wanting me
or the other way around.

All spit & sputter. The blue inside the red inside my cupped palm.

The hurt

doesn’t hurt so much anymore. Healing the healed-over is simple
as forgiving a history we think is done with us.


Once the living takes hold

there is no turning back. Tonight I am listening to myself
listening to wolves who won’t shut up about the moon.
Shrill mantras. I’m not sorry for. & more & more

life. Both things,

I think, are true. I can turn my back on
the world & still be facing it.


Sometimes we want a thing more
for wanting’s sake. An itch

the scratching only deepens.

What I want isn’t important. What I want is to believe
all this living is a field; our briefly luminous bondage,

somehow, the least bright thing in it.


Wide as a Heaven Hemmed in by Hills

Some blood still in it. Some yeast to make bread from a body;
some bones not quite ground down enough to swallow. Still,
some solace when the mice chew through the rafters & open
the sky to our song. Sometimes it is like this. Veined with light,
a white clapboard church choked in vines & your parents
somewhere in it doing whatever the dead do to stay lit. Some
things will be just where you left them. When you come back,
the same mountain mined beyond repair & the same lack
of children in the park. Just dogs. Nooses remade into tire swings.
Home; all the same hungers. The sky still giving little slack.
& those old paper prayers from childhood snagged on the same
branches. Some birds with all the flight knocked out of them still
thrashing at the air trying to ascend.

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 QuarterlySycamore ReviewPrairie SchoonerThe Massachusetts ReviewPoet LoreSaranac Review,Atlanta ReviewTriQuarterlyColumbia Poetry ReviewMid-American ReviewPoetry Northwest, Third Coast, and various anthologies. He lives in Portland, Oregon.

Photo: “Old Church in New Castle,” by Rachel Elaine