Poems by John Sibley Williams
John Sibley Williams poems in “Disinheritance” limn the in-between places as he explores the sorrow of life’s fragility. It’s the darkness of these poems that illuminates the bursts of reconciliation. Usually I rely on the words to speak for themselves. In this case, though, I was adrift in Williams purposeful ambiguity. I longed for a context to click the structure in place. I found it in an interview with “The Writer’s Life” in which he shared “the pivotal moments…within a few months of each other” that inspired his book: “the illness and passing of my mother, a terrible miscarriage” as he and his wife struggled “to move forward and redefine the landscape of family.”
I was further helped when he explained that “To explore grief more fully in this collection, I adopted various unique voices, like those of our miscarried child, the hypothetical boy he might have grown up to be, my mother in her last moments, and my wife as she struggled to cope.”
As the co-editor of The Inflectionist Review which “has a strong preference for non-linear work that carefully constructs ambiguity so that the reader can play an active role in the poem” Williams’ poems are typically “not overly narrative or overly personal.” So it was an “exciting challenge to write from a part of my heart still raw and healing. While writing these poems, I often struggled with how much real life information I should include vs. how much I should leave unsaid, how many details vs. how much ambiguity.”
Thus equipped, I approached the book again with its longing for something that was and now is not.
Firmly grounded in images of nature: river, rock, tree, birds, doe, flowers, snowflakes, earth, bones, sun, shadow, mountains, canyon, fish, clouds, butterfly and light we are taken on a healing journey. The nine explicitly titled “Dead Boy” poems interspersed through the collection form stepping stones in the river of grief. In the final poem in this cycle “A Dead Boy Visits the Grotto,” we find “Then there’s the stream, always/an incision of fresh water/leading up to the foot/of the foot/of the promise.”
In the final poem of the collection, “Denouement,” with the prayer flags flying I feel pulled into the bardo (the intermediate state between death and re-birth) taught in Tibetan Buddhism. The child’s spirit hovers: “…On the porch between us stars/are implied. Or roots. Her shoes with just enough wind left/inside them.” Perhaps a final threshold nears as she crosses to a new home.