John Sibley Williams
Dear Doctor Frankenstein
It’s never taken lightning
to cobble a life together
from scraps or waken
a town to its most primal
fires. Don’t you remember
how we sealed the well
when that boy who’d fallen
wouldn’t stop wailing
mother. Or the carnival
we chased out once the oddities
turned from monsters to mirrors.
How we come to know animals
by breaking them, our bodies
only after the liver has failed,
every lover and stranger
as shadows of ourselves.
It’s a mistake to think
everything is an invention
of man. The world does not turn
but is born to winter.
In some versions I am victim
while in others I cannot help
but add my torch to the burning
house. It’s a mistake when I say
this is not my house.
While there’s still some mirror in it,
I enter the river I once hoped to drown in
and, naked apart from my clothes,
wonder how the shadows passing beneath
could have ever appeared as sharks.
How the green and reaching tendrils licking my legs
could have been so misconstrued.
They still await explanation
but are not so dangerous anymore.
Like a soldier returned home to redraft his story.
Like a miscarriage once the house is filled with children.
I wanted to go live in the dead city lining the river’s bottom
but I’m not so sure anyone still resides there.
The unknown legacy of lost things is a whale’s song
I will not follow to its natural end.
There is only one end and it is not today.
Today crash and churn are just synonyms for movement.
I swallow my breath and swim down
past the warm summer light to touch
the crumbled walls of the city. My house is mainly intact.
I knock at the door and am greeted as a stranger.
Everywhere, wagon wheels and polished buffalo skulls.
Copper coins and stirrups saved from rust by double panes of glass.
A dramatic portrait of someone living’s great grandmother. The empty eye
of a noose swaying civilly over sagebrush. All that rednesses soaked
deep in its braids. Crow feathers. Golden eagle feathers. Chipped clay.
Like some great ark upturned and abandoned when the flood never came,
a rail station circa back then crumbles to the earth and weeps.
The field around it still filled with waiting. Rib bones bent into bows.
Many things here in miniature but for three Winchesters and
a jar by the door for donations. Reparations. Taxidermy owls.
A cradleboard strapped to a fiberglass mother.
Either the field out back or this photograph of the field goes on forever.
Sometimes it’s all I can do not to join you in that black & white burning
grass, beneath stained slipknot, and make love to the world
as one, within the long shadows of dead horses.
John Sibley Williams is one of the cofounders of the Inflectionist poetry movement and edits its flagship journal, The Inflectionist Review. He has edited two volumes of Northwest poetry, Alive at the Center and Motionless from the Iron Bridge, and produced nine poetry collections, including Disinheritance and Controlled Hallucinations. Mr. Williams is a five-time Pushcart nominee and has won the Vallum Award for Poetry and the Confrontation Poetry Prize, among other plaudits. He lives in Portland, Oregon, and works as a freelance literary agent and publicist.