Dying two hundred times
with as many rebirths
sounds like a lot work;
papering the earth red
without so much as a war,
no sacrifice, tears, eulogy.
& never the same sparrows,
never knowing more than
a season or two the living
bodies born in your arms.
Remember how terrified
we were those long sleepless
nights huddled over cribs
waiting for the absence of child
to overtake us again?
What silence implies in a world
defined by wail. Remember when
we delivered your mother’s ashes
to the brook & how long it took
to look at water the same way?
If only our children were trees
we could watch them ghost
all winter — shiver whitely, leafless,
barely breathing — without all these
terrible prayers. We could celebrate
how light returns as swiftly & forever
as when it left us.
The fields are a dog-eared book.
The best passages wear our fingerprints. The arable
all used up. Then planted & sown again.
dust rises up & resettles. A combine batters & builds. You are inside
rearranging your bedroom again so it looks
a bit less like your father’s, his father’s. Until you get used to it that way
the field’s going
& returning to us
seems an undeserved
& sometimes even then.
Then there was no more singing.
All the lights in their throats cut:
the protest of evening wolves & black
bears nuzzling a parched creek for any-
thing that might sustain them another
white-skinned winter, those foreign
birds we never learned the names for.
Invasive, my grandfather called them.
Like the silver carp haunting our
local river. Bullfrogs & possums.
He called us natives after living
three generations on the same
hard land it took so much blood
to own. At the end of the path
the bullet takes to meet the right
body, the right body drops like
nothing worth losing sleep over.
It’ll cost two men three hours
to drag it home in one piece.
That wilder silence lasts but
a brief eternity. Before the unseen
choir shakes the forest. Again,
the same damn wolves & starlings. Men
still dragging. The season closing.
Its wiry legs kick & quiver in our hands.
Like strings. Song. Our song now to sing.
John Sibley Williams is the author of As One Fire Consumes Another (Orison Poetry Prize), Skin Memory (Backwaters Prize) and Summon (JuxtaProse Chapbook Prize). A twenty-three-time Pushcart nominee and winner of various awards, John serves as editor of The Inflectionist Review, teaches for Literary Arts and is a poetry agent. More: johnsibleywilliams.com