Week 41: John Sibley Williams


Uncoordinated Efforts

“Desperation set in”: Puerto Ricans grab shovels, machetes to help restore power

            —CBS News; February 7, 2018

Sometimes a palmful of water is enough
to keep an island from statehood, power. 

Sometimes it takes shovels & machetes
to carve one’s name in the same earth 

that yields so willingly to others. Human
currency devalues quicker than paper. 

A raft rolling wildly—sometimes spilling
its children into the surf, sometimes even

reaching us intact—can always be turned
away. & home can be made as strenuous

as passage. That we are not them helps
restore our faith in ourselves. We watch

poles hoist skyward in prayer—lines sparking,
alive in communication—& know some good

can come of suffering. That’s the Jesus we hold
up for worship. That’s the West we praise

our great-grandparents for taming for us.
Sometimes another’s grit gives a people

back its power, sometimes even their vote. Still,
unbordered doesn’t always imply incorporated.

Or empathy, aide. It’s a wonder we can even see them through
all the seabirds lining up to roost on their unbroken backs.


John Sibley Williams is the author of As One Fire Consumes Another (Orison Poetry Prize, 2019), Skin Memory (Backwaters Prize, University of Nebraska Press, 2019), Disinheritance, and Controlled Hallucinations. A nineteen-time Pushcart nominee, John is the winner of numerous awards, including the Wabash Prize for Poetry, Philip Booth Award, American Literary Review Poetry Contest, Phyllis Smart-Young 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. Previous publishing credits include: The Yale Review, Midwest QuarterlySouthern ReviewSycamore ReviewPrairie SchoonerThe Massachusetts ReviewPoet LoreSaranac ReviewAtlanta ReviewTriQuarterlyColumbia Poetry ReviewMid-American ReviewPoetry Northwest, Third Coast, and various anthologies. He lives in Portland, Oregon.