Five Poems

by John Sibley Williams

Butte, Montana

An aluminum bullring. Earth kicked up into a furious mist.
Evening. My hand dragging
the sunken head of a beast toward evening, as well.
The safe word here is silence. This is when I know I’ve gone
just far enough. When the sun swallows the earth,
odds are it will be like this.


Cheyenne, Wyoming

Boy on the threshold of song. Boy swallowed up
by a flannel two sizes too large
and a mountain
of dust from cars returning east.
Boy made up almost entirely of stone and summer, broad
empty sky,
osprey, owl, hard brown bread. Boy
hawking horses whittled from cedar
alone beneath
a rusty tin roof with one wall
that from the rearview tapers off
to the point of never having been there at all.


Along the Inside Passage, Alaska

How hemlock swallow the sky, for example. From a silent evening
understory, how their slight sway unsteadies the solid world.
Though deep into summer, my hands
are bluing. The stove flame is dying. Everywhere owls emerging
from the palpable absence of eagle.
There is always a lake,
and here the crossing is shallow
between shore and shore. The weight of a body,
different than I remember. Approaching darkness, I ask,
please don’t consume my body entirely, this time.


Duluth, Minnesota

Pipe smoke and thin strips of flypaper.
Citronella. Red, swollen skin.
A hesitancy of light struggles through night clouds.
And where once the stars, stories.
We are passing around our pasts like whiskey.
Then comes the whiskey. Smooth
and unquestionable myth.
Three sizes larger than truth,
the morning’s catch of walleye and salmon.
The fight still going on in the elk head above us.
Our shadows lengthening across a lawn that ends
in lake, and somewhere out there in the dark,
past the lake, another country.


Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Bison thrum. The darkness breathes.
And spear tips flicker in the firelight.
There’s bull elk implied. Or aspen sharpened by shadow.
Flame with a circle of stones to temper it.
The disembodied
words of Whitman and cormorant returning; on the wind,
my mother before I knew her, or just after. Vaguely,
in the distance, water’s fall and water’s crash,
the sound of everything I’ve failed
to keep safe. And home.