John Sibley Williams

Being Islands

Petrels drag along the surface like daggers

or walk it like tiny gray Christs, depending.

The old beached shipwreck our children

climb through either speaks for the sea

or for the fingerprints we’re leaving

all over it. Being islands, we have no idea

if the terrible grinding beneath us might

eventually swallow what it raised

or if our bit of land lost within so much

blue will endure the next storm. Is that

why the promises our children deserve

dissolve on our tongues like salt

or poison or both? Depending

on the stars’ alignment, tonight

we’ll own what we’ve done

or none of it was ever ours.

Orbit // Obit

—for Tishani Doshi, after a friend’s suicide

Our drawing stars

together into brand new constellations

named after monsters & angry father

figures in the margins of unread textbooks

hasn’t changed the trajectory.

Snow still stacks like bodies. Above,

clouds cotton & disband. Last night

I heard a dog in the valley wound heaven

with a single wail. It was the sound of men

rubbing themselves against the world,

claiming ownership of what cannot be

owned. I wish you were still here to

bear the brunt of night’s blow.


the light struggling through these disrobed

trees hurts like a given-up-on century, like

bruised apples sinking deeper into winter,

like watching you trace a star’s path

with what would become your trigger finger

back and forth across a brilliantly

vanquished sky.

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 Laux/Millar Prize. He serves as editor of The Inflectionist Review and works as a literary agent. Previous publishing credits include: The Yale Review, Midwest Quarterly, Sycamore Review, Prairie Schooner, The Massachusetts Review, Poet Lore, Saranac Review, Atlanta Review, TriQuarterly, Columbia Poetry Review, Mid-American Review,Poetry Northwest, Third Coast, and various anthologies. He lives in Portland, Oregon.

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