because we don't burn witches anymore

by JOHN SIBLEY WILLIAMS

It’s not shotgunning these lines of
empty bottles into sharp little stars

but how quickly we drank them
that awakens the courage. The doubt.

Upwind from the politics of home
and that wet-dog stench of rain

baking into clay, the sky is ours now
to shatter. To forget. And remake.

And I’m no longer terrified
of what I’ll grow up into.

Not the faith but the gods in things, missing.
Not the blackbird sharpening its beak

on stone but what we call the sparks
when they don’t come. Sometimes

you can be too careful. Sometimes
you must try to spark all your own.

Not far from here they used to burn
women that failed to confess their guilt

or drown in their innocence. Nowadays
we marry them, and our parents sigh.

We have all been here before, lying
drunk in the bed of a pickup surrounded

by warm shells, briefly empowered, waiting
for the earth to change us for the better.

John Sibley Williams is the editor of two Northwest poetry anthologies and the author of nine collections, including Disinheritance and Controlled Hallucinations. A seven-time Pushcart nominee, John 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: The Yale Review, Midwest Quarterly, Sycamore Review, Prairie Schooner, The Massachusetts Review, Poet Lore, Saranac Review, Atlanta Review, Arts & Letters, Columbia Poetry Review, Mid-American Review, Poetry Northwest, Third Coast, and various anthologies. He lives in Portland, Oregon.