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John Sibley Williams

Apiary & Woodshop

Letter in Response to a Letter from My Grandfather

Into a Different Night

Apiary & Woodshop

I can’t remember which saint burned
herself pure & which the Romans

burned the impurities from or if it matters
sacrifice vs. sparrow,

natural or forced flight.
Where a bridge collapses,

shores remain. When the shores yield,
cliffs. If the cliffs,

we’ll still find something
high to fall from. Here

is a half-finished city shining
like the last untainted image of heaven:

crane rusted in place,
mid-air, useless, a painting

of an angel descending toward
a miracle that never comes.

Here the hinges of a house scream
from disuse. Do we even have

the right equipment to tune this
bedlam of bees into a honeyed song?

Will we always be three boards from
finishing this little boat?

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Letter in Response to a Letter from My Grandfather

This space between doubt & hesitation:
between questioning the war & failing
to fire: between anything you love & its
distance from your hand. You always
said obedience is liberating, killing like
spitting in the face of death, like pissing
a fire down to embers, then nothing but
night. I’m writing to say I think I get it
now: now that you’re dead & another war
has replaced the one that replaced yours
& though there’s nothing left to move us,
still we are moved. Still we trespass & feel
guilt. Still we read the world as dots
& dashes, which is to say incompletely,
which is to say good enough to know it by.
There’s always been too much life to handle,
more smoke than ash. & I hesitate to ask
if you’d still raise your rifle now
that enemy is just another word for yesterday
or lay me over your knee now that it’s too late
to take it back.   

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In a Different Night

—for William Brewer

We can’t go on pretending this house
has ears, that the dead give a damn
the how of our remembering them,
that all rainbows aren’t really light
trapped between gasoline & water.
Because haloes are brittle as fire,
as stars we’ve stopped believing in,
as hoarfrosted grass snapping off
in the hundreds every step, we can’t
pretend eternity will outlast us. Close
& closer still: the skin of the earth
opens to fascia, all living parts tied
to each other tied to a structure that keeps
the world from bursting. When it bursts,
let’s stop saying we’ll know it. & that death
means almost home, that there’s a difference
between cemetery & potter’s field, that last
breaths belong to the grieving as much
as this thick sterile hospital air gone pungent
as overwatered flowers. All of it. Let’s let it
all go. As we did Santa, childhood, god,
the story of that winged boy who, only after
burning, discovers gravity.

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John Sibley Williams is the editor of two Northwest poetry anthologies and the author of nine collections, including Disinheritance and Controlled Hallucinations. A seven-time Pushcart nominee, John is the winner of numerous awards, including the Philip Booth Award, American Literary Review Poetry Contest, 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 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. Visit his website here:

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