John Sibley Williams was a finalist for the 2017 Neil Shepard Prize in Poetry


Body broken into. All the sweetness
torn out. Brightly dyed paper flakes
linger in the grass as if someone has
sanded down the sun. The husk of
an animal hangs loosely from a sky
clouding over in storm. Tomorrow
he will be a man. Until then, sticks
are just sticks. Thrashing the insides
out of some martyred beast is play.
Lollipop. Marzipan. Tamarind. Fire
works its way up the arm into bottle
rocket into bang. The sky glimmers
& is gone. & whatever the children
can carry home in their teeth will be
Exile Says

There is no escape, & no remaining.
The rhythm of the sea cutting ships
west toward newer old worlds, even
after weeks, can’t rock you to sleep.
You know hope is a husked cicada,
a child slaving for an underground
factory, threads pouring through her
fingers into shirt & dress, yet you
hope. Exile says at least I can claim
some small victory over ruin
. Days
multiply & your grandfather speaks
in your dreams of the cane harvest
& how his hands, back when they
loomed so large over you, softened
at your touch, then hardened again.
Everyone needs a somewhere, he
whispers, & since the dead have no
ears, you reply by listening. & there
is not much to ask of home but why
anyway. Why & how & if, none of
which are really questions. The sea
empties what it carries out onto one
or another shore. Exile says at least
& at last & yes & yes! & your heart
hurts. & your heart hurts. The cane
sways. Though there’s no cane here,
it sways.

John Sibley Williams
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