John Sibley Williams: “Self-Portrait with Mojave”


White as a picked apart cattle skull,

clean & sober as its dismantling,

our eyes grown accustomed to seeing

ghosts seek out other kinds of horror.

Enormous horse hides fill the walls.

A Winchester rides high over pictures

of a blacked & whited history. The people

who’ve called this place home longer

than we’ve been Americans squat outside

a gas station sipping at bottles we gave

them in compensation, in apology.

As kids we’d drag the shed part of snakes

home to decorate a stone mantle

that never needed to know fire.

How we’d light it anyway

to let the land know

we’re not going anywhere.

How we’d let the water cupped

in our hands escape back to the basin

& think it thirst.

John Sibley Williams is the editor of two Northwest poetry anthologies and the author of nine collections, including Disinheritance and Controlled Hallucinations. He 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: Yale Review, Midwest QuarterlySycamore ReviewPrairie SchoonerMassachusetts ReviewPoet LoreSaranac ReviewAtlanta ReviewTriQuarterlyColumbia Poetry ReviewMid-American ReviewPoetry Northwest, Third Coast, and various anthologies.

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