- From “Interruptive” by Phillip B. Williams
Related Poem Content Details
What can I do but make of the eyes of others
my own eyes, but make of the world a ghazal
whose radif is a haunting of me, me, me?
Somewhere there are fingers still whole
to tell the story of the empire that devours fingers.
Somewhere there is a city where even larvae
cannot clean the wounds of the living
and cannot eat on the countless dead
who are made to die tomorrow and tomorrow.
Carrion beetles and boot bottoms grind corpses
powder-soft to feed the small-mouthed gods
of gardens and wind. Roses made to toss their silk
to earth like immolated gowns, hills
spewing ribbons of charred air from cities
occupied by artillery and pilfered grain, limbs
blown from their bodies and made into an alphabet
that builds this fool song, even now, presented
before you as false curative, as vacant kiss — even
what is lost in the fabrication of strangers needs naught
from strangers. Even somewhere stings with stillness,
stings with a home not surrendered but a given.
But I have not been with my feet on the earth
there where bullets make use of skin like flags
make use of the land. My thinking is as skeletal
as the bombed-out schools and houses
untelevised. What do I know of occupation
but my own colonized thinking to shake
free from. While my days themselves tremble
from time and shake off place to feel falsely
placeless, a hollow empathy as if its soft chisel
could make of this wall — my ignorance mighty
before me upon which drawn figures alight
against the stone — my own; what is mine is
the wall my votes and non-votes, my purchases
wrapped in unthought have built and stretched,
undead gray. There are no secrets in debris.
I have a home I hate, its steel and lights
red and blue upon me. Home itself a mist
through which I pass and barely notice.
Home, to assume you are home is to assume
I am welcome in you — to what degree let the wounds
say so — and can come and go as I please.
The television tells me Over there, and one must point
with a fully extended arm to show how far from,
how unlike here there really is. Over there
where they blow each other up over land and God.
And it feels good to stretch as if from waking —
this silence could be called a kind of sleep — and think
beyond, where I am not and where those who are
are not — wall upon which drawings of fists
strike skyward and faces of activists stare into me
from my Google search. Turnstiles separate
home from home. Barbed wire catches clouds
in its coil saws. What do I know of injustice
but having a home throughout which bullets,
ballots, and brutality trifecta against
people who were here before here was here
and people were brought here to change
the landscape of humanity? That word has rolling hills
and towering walls. To hammer against it not to get
to the other side — believe nothing is there —
but to make obsolete side — know there is nothing.
I know this: my metaphors have small arms,
my wallet has made monstrous my reflection,
I have done terrible things by being alive.
I have built a wonder of terror with my life.
[Image of an eight-meter-tall wall, constructed by connected prefabrications. Interspersed among them are surveillances (I’ll make them pay). What is closed opens then settles. Spill: a scream, what makes it. On the wall a body leans, which is a caption: “This is not prayer.” (Which side are you on?) Here where there is no here, endurance measured by a field’s disruption and around it what makes possible a furthering (to settle this in court or to settle in this courtyard). Argument: this thinking is real because it has been made touchable if touch is the mutual rejection of objects from entering into the other (let’s settle this once and for all) who’s going to pay for what reaches toward and fails at heaven? To settle the debt, settle in silence. If it is not silent (this roaring (is it fire / stone / a pen lifting (ban no ban no b — ) or falling?) is it home?) make it so.]
Between his war with self and the war
in a sand-sealed country neither of us could spell,
juvie took from R what little childhood
Chicago hadn’t taken. Between bloody showers
and rushed meals, him forced by bigger boys
until pain became expectation and expectation
pleasure. A shortened sentence meant fighting
for a country against people for whom R held
no hatred while hating the ones he fought for.
There is venom in coercion misnamed loyalty.
Boys and bloody water in his head when he left
to fight in heat and camo. Then in the barrack’s
shower, three soldiers raped R. Sand is the Plaza
of Pardon. Wind draws its name across the grains
and leaves the grains with the name it gave.
Who would I be after so many tried to live
in me forcibly? R in the desert, our Skype
lost connection when an explosion blew out
what little service he had. Oh shit,
we been hit. Then blackout silence
and my pulse explicit. Let us rejoice in this:
war is a love song that makes your body dangerous
to others, that makes you unlivable. You become more
private. You are always early to yourself.
When I saw him again, marijuana discharged him
dishonorably and the men inside him shooting guns
and shooting cum went with him. This is one veteran’s
legacy, one man I know and have lost to distance,
my own pulling me from everything I’m meant to
hold close. What do I know of exile but self-imposed
self-removal. When R kissed my forehead goodbye
the first time I felt citizenly, patriotic, my white
handkerchief au revoir-ing a friend from my mind
who returned with sand hissing down his pant legs.
A hero is an hourglass. For what
does his countdown drop its grains, skull to heel?
One night, words came, swift
as if prayed for, showing
myself to me to correct myself:
Grief unhides beneath bombed mosques
while the sky blows into pale blue absence
dust and vaporized skin.
Grief and sky, unrequited lovers. Whose hurt
could hold the other’s? Grief knows the passage
of the worm and the temperatures of dirt.
Sky knows the neon of kite sail and tail.
Fifteen thousand names written in the air
by ribbon, rhombi billowed into shields,
glide into the Guinness Book of Records, memories
passed page to page across oceans and treaties
in ink out-blacking smoke. Waves leave soft creases
on the Gaza Strip and know airborne diamonds
by the shadows of their measured shapes
tethered like falcons to a child’s quick hands ...
How to mistake American arrogance for love,
to think kites could humanize the already-human
and hide the anti-human from its history.
Why cloak our custom of cloaking? To make
palatable the blade we turn on ourselves we turn it
on others. In good light the metal will give
us back to ourselves. Does the wolf know
it has a reflection? Ask the water if it shows
to us its beast self or has one given to it.
[Image of an eight-meter-tall wall, over which is painted “Is you coming or going or is I?” A ray of light ballistic through the form is both answer and rejection of an answer’s possibility.]
Tragedy disturbs tragedy.
There can never be just one
way to see the end to ourselves.
The Mediterranean has endless room
where capsized boats of hundreds bloomed
once with refugees. Water can’t be trusted.
The wind with its countless hands hasting
water into waves can’t be seen so can’t be
trusted even though we feel it, even when we
know along its unseen force bobs curt hymns
from the dead to the living. We don’t hear them
rising from the salt like fins. We hear bombs
and think Each storm carries the broken cries
of a broken nation in its contortion. Alibi
for the living is the land: it’s the earth
itself that refuses the dead a home in burr
or field, in the stone plateaus or tableaux
of scree from a city of wild boars and roads
that lead to a burning garden, a gutted church,
a school uniform hemmed by soldiers, a birch
limned with blood and pointing dually
west to a row of houses roofless but for crows and east
to a rifle hung above a threshold like a saint.
Something’s always watching, well-aimed
and unkind, empty and on fire or just-
finished burning. And the water will rust
the skin, will extinguish the fire and the flesh.
Baptism is what the living do. The rest
are left to idols of fish and worm, are left
with the living’s pens and books bereft
and intricate as mausolea woven from husks
of stories the dead cannot tell. They brux
in our renditions as we cull their truth for our song.
The wilderness within us creeps closer
to the surface of thought and burial.
We drag ourselves from the selves
that laid bear traps that trapped us into our own
dragging, one leg limp behind like a memory
pain brings forward. Low grass collects
pockets of our blood as if any gloss
could reduce droughts in the smallest needs.
If we make eye contact with the most beleaguered
of us, we pray the remains of god would shower
spears to smite clean such embarrassment. We are not
neighbors, just near. We are failures of nature
and the stars burn down through trees no light
we can trust. Because we were shrewd with conviction
the pads of our right hands’ digits have singed
into them one letter each to spell faith. What we touch
with that hand will fell our enemies
who are ourselves. We draw a maze with our blood,
follow paths drawn from the cruelties sculpted
into another’s body. I am losted by a child’s missing eye,
dead-ended by a family encrusted with shrapnel.
If I follow my own disaster more closely,
if I allow buzzards spiraling above prophecy
enough to reveal time as caught in the loop
of their pinions, if I remove my shirt
from my bloodied torso and twist
from it my own oil, if in my pocket
I find the final ballot before the mine
was tripped in god’s patience, if I see my vote
had predicted the immolation of seasons
and the beheading of goats sacrificed to rain
that washed away no blood and emulsified
sickness into the oceans and seas, if pain rises
from the mouths of the dead in the shape
the dead took when alive, if all this time
we’ve been building tombs and calling them home —
[Image of an eight-meter-tall wall bearing a hole in its center, or a 1.7272-meter-tall wall, which is me, bearing a hole in my center. I am the wall and the hole is what makes me better. I want to be better.]
Hajjar, does a body on its back act as the body’s own
grief? Is a body downed the mind’s shadow? If we must love
our souls, does that mean we must love what leaves?
Related Poem Content Details
Phillip B. Williams was born in Chicago, Illinois and earned his MFA from Washington University, where he was a Chancellor's Graduate fellow. He is the author of the chapbooks Bruised Gospels (Arts in Bloom Inc., 2011), Burn (YesYes Books, 2013), and Thief in the Interior (Alice James Books, 2016), winner of the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. His poetry has appeared in Callaloo, Kenyon Review Online, The Southern Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, West Branch, Blackbird and others.
Williams is a Cave Canem graduate and the poetry editor of the online journal Vinyl Poetry. He is the recipient of a Whiting Award and teaches at Bennington College.
Poems By Phillip B. Williams
Poem CategorizationIf you disagree with this poem's categorization make a suggestion.