Speculation on the Intimacy of Cloud Shapes

by John Sibley Williams —

I can’t shake the feeling                                          we all carry some shared
self-referential image to see what we need            to see in what
otherwise can’t wear us. Even                                a breached levee can
feel like home when it splits                                    a family in two.
Even the paternal snore of oil                                 refineries, though less
constant than that drunken slumber                       fathers sing to a hushed
& anxious house, & so much less                          sincere as silence or grief,
shakes the dust from the sky.                                 For his hand: think a train’s
coal car. & for your own: the faces                         shovels make from the sparks.
For this slowly lengthening rope                             of night; think history; think
of all they names we’ve used for god                     & how closely they resemble
the expectations we hang over                               our children’s heads. Impossibly
pure, familiar, that boat in the distance                   rowing further into the distance.
For distance: not what is lost & mourned               but mourned without any loss at all;
as clouds congregate, coalesce,                            disband over a house that stands
empty yet firm, rooted in reflection,                        intimate so far as we still see ourselves in it.

John Sibley Williams is the author of As One Fire Consumes Another (Orison Poetry Prize, 2019), Skin Memory (Backwaters Prize, 2019), Disinheritance, and Controlled Hallucinations. An eleven-time Pushcart nominee, John is the winner of numerous awards, including the Philip Booth Award, American Literary Review Poetry Contest, Phyllis Smart-Young Prize, The 46er Prize, Nancy D. Hargrove Editors’ Prize, Confrontation Poetry Prize, and Laux/Millar Prize. He serves as editor of The Inflectionist Review and works as a literary agent. He lives in Portland, Oregon.