Frail flurries of ash from backyard
burnings blacken the falling snow.
Where the body of a brother should
be, a rotting fencepost. Bits of wire.
The vacant flag of my country beats
itself senseless against a wind that
cannot seem to make up its mind.
Whatever it lifts up from the earth
or pulls down from the sky it throws
in every direction. Shadows of half-
naked trees halve our faces. What
side am I meant to be on? It’s true,
the dead aren’t going anywhere. But
how far have we gone that absence
seems normal? This splintered cedar
kindles his uniform, blazes the night
red upon red upon blue at its core.
The moon fills with uglier moons.
The stars are just fine, and maybe
that’s what really matters. Shuffling
in the distant brush we pray is more
boy than mule deer. Antlers catch
the lessening light, like any bone.
What Should Have Been a Temporary Ark
We weren’t exactly drowning, but
when the banks broke that autumn,
making lakes of the lawn and a tired
old boat from our tired old house,
we saved two of each stuffed animal
and waited on the roof for the flood
to recede. After a few days, we ate
them. Stuffing and seams and all.
Then we ate our pet budgie, having
returned again without finding land.
Such reluctant symbols of survival,
ships. And homes. Not exactly dead
bodies drifting below us, but books,
chairs, trunks shedding photos we
hadn’t revisited in years. Small seas
of memories, slowly drying out. So
we ate those too. We’re still eating
them. Every fall the entire family
gathers together from distant edges
of a drowning country to play make
believe on this tired old roof. What
we believe, we make sure to ruin.
Flood or no flood, what we love,
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, Arts & Letters, Columbia Poetry Review, Mid-American Review, Poetry Northwest, Third Coast, and various anthologies. He lives in Portland, Oregon.