Letter from a Small Town

Two poems by John Sibley Williams

Remember / that Japanese maple your mother / hog-tied & slowly bent over years / into perfection?

Letter from a Small Town

Floating on my back on a black lake
searching for stars in an overlit after
noon sky. A body before burden;
the questions that would make me,
unasked for another summer. Brittle
chorus of swaying pine. Tire swung
from a long chain over an unbroken
surface. If you were still here in this
postcarded image, I’d hold the need
for elsewhere in one palm, the pills
that ferried you there in the other,
spread them like sunflower seeds or
buckshot across the field behind the
field where you died. Who knows
what might grow from it? I have no
idea how much sun it takes to force
things to grow toward it. Remember
that Japanese maple your mother
hog-tied & slowly bent over years
into perfection? Like that; I’d guess
you’d grow something like that.


When things stop standing in for other things

Night doesn’t fall; it consumes. Fire
once cut from this page & planted
back into a hayloft razes more than
the vague poetries of youthful lust.
The barn is ash & ash cannot return
to fire & it turns out what they say
about horses is true. & stars aren’t
crashing gracefully into the grass;
they’re reflecting off the rain. Those
aren’t voices replying to my father’s
prayers; it’s just the house settling.
Knives don’t cut both ways. Knives
are sharper than pens. My triggered
finger aims at passing finches; none
drop bloody at my feet. No, I don’t
think my mother can see what I am
unmaking of myself.


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.