Disinheritance. John Sibley Williams. Apprentice House Press. Loyola University Maryland. Baltimore, Maryland. 2016.
Disinheritance by John Sibley Williams is an epic cannonade of grief that echoes with the howls of the bereaved and the callous innocent whispers of the dead. Williams says it right out loud in his poem Procession, Disinheritance is Williams coming to terms with "This dazzling confederacy of losses."
Williams is deep into some desperately sad glamour but the reader connects to this urgent melancholy as though it were our own. Williams is touching our deepest fear, the loss of one of our beloved.
A Dead Boy Speaks to His Parents
you don't have to be anymore.
Whatever script you'd written for the stars to follow, they've missed
gone true right instead of stage right.
Nightly, you whisper:
ever since perhaps because or even before --
but you don't have to thread cause through effect
or rummage through whatever beginnings you've captured on film to
discover a fixed point of departure.
The zeotrope continues to spin without image.
Mom and Dad:
you don't have to be contained anymore
between the lines I never had time to write
on the stars that don't listen anyway.
Banshee screams reverberate in the quiet sorrow Williams has invested in these poems. The loss and unimaginable emotional fatigue that underscores the restrained madness of grief is writ large in all these poems yet they never weigh us down completely. John Sibley Williams has "given sorrow words" to quote Maryse Holder - another writer who knew everything you get to know about loss.
These poems touch our hearts at the same time as they wrench our stomachs and pull at our throats. Ghosts reach out with their ghostly cold hands to offer some solace but the revenant have no skill at holding back grief.
Things Start at Their Names
Ice locks the river in place and my heart
is static for the season and traversable.
Sometimes a boy about the age
my son would be adventures
half way across me before remembering
the duty to destroy the one thing
beneath him. He writes his name
on my rib; it says Curiosity. I reply
with the name I've learned to wear:
Distance. A fluster of bluegill follows his body
downstream to where it meets the Columbia,
in time the ocean, which I cannot make freeze.
Next spring I will snare the things that still in me,
beat them against stone, and eat until empty. I have
his name written all over my body; it say Forever
be Winter. My wife calls him Gabriel; after all these years
she still calls him Gabriel, and sometimes from the shore
she calls to me: Thaw.
To say that this morning's reading was a somber affair would not be going quite far enough. Tears were shed. John Sibley Williams seems determined to unleash a quiet emotional fury on the reader and is entirely successful, everyone in the office "liked" the poems, much admiration was expressed, shared glances. muted looks. Reading Disinheritance will wring your heart right out of your chest.
So how does Today's book of poetry say I like something so sad? For the same reasons I like sad songs, I am touched. Williams builds tension like he was stringing a piano, everything is tight.
A Dead Boy Fishes with His Dead
The fish have broken the line again, Grandpa,
and everything we've held runs silver through our hands,
and out. Across the never-ending surface: disruptions and
echoes, waves our crooked fingers cannot flatten.
Our lines travel without us. You and I and the lives we must end.
But not today.
Today we've lost the death that keeps us.
Today we reverse: you are my child and I will love you
for the childish stories I've heard.
About the dead you cannot erase,
muddied uniforms and flags marked by the smallest red suns.
About how Grandma combs the long-dried blood
from your thinning hair, with her thinning hand.
About how each kindness is a reason to remain unpardoned.
How memory writhes below skin and is its own decision:
devour or release.
I will decide to love the empty hook of your body,
like a warning, your hands--
where they've calloused and where they've healed.
Today I will pretend to understand
why you cry like a knife stroke when I throw you back.
Grief can be overwhelming and terrifying and Williams isn't letting anyone out the exits without a heartscorch. Disinheritance is a pained pleasure, compelling as it is discomforting. This is wicked good writing.
John Sibley Williams
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John Sibley Williams is the editor of two Northwest poetry anthologies and the author of nine collections. A five-time Pushcart nominee and winner of the Philip Booth Award, American Literary Review Poetry Contest, Nancy D. Hargrove Editors’ Prize, and Vallum Award for Poetry, John serves as editor of The Inflectionist Review and works as a literary agent. Previous publishing credits include: The Midwest Quarterly, december, Third Coast, Baltimore Review, Nimrod International Journal, Hotel Amerika, Rio Grande Review, Inkwell, Cider Press Review, Bryant Literary Review, RHINO, and various anthologies. He lives in Portland, Oregon.
Daniel Klawitter, author of A Poet Playing Doctor and An Epistemology Of Flesh, reads the poem Sanctuary from John Sibley Williams' poetry collection Disinheritance.
Video: John Sibley Williams
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