079.1: Johnathon Williams:: Anniversary Sonnet & Soliloquy to the Peephole of Apartment 9 & Camping in the Ouachita National Forest 079

To read these poems by Johnathon Williams is to allow oneself to be entirely overwhelmed by the unimpeded force of a moment of time that is both "all / too much" and also "slipping away." Each of these poems begins with a moment of crisis that expands outward until it seemingly encompasses and embodies the narrator's entire life. These thoughts and observations accumulate, weighing down on the both the narrator and the reader: "Jesus, the arch / of her back. Her fists and hair. My shame and joy." The narrator finds that recognizing the situation is not enough, that something is still missing: "I recognize the language but not the words." The struggle to move successfully through the day becomes a struggle for survival—the survival of one's purpose. The second poem references Ovid and Goethe, though these poems seem more to respond to Rilke's You must change your life, answering "But time / is the whole problem, its relentless march / away". Andrew Wessels

Anniversary Sonnet


We fought all night, all morning, so I treat
myself to breakfast down at Common Grounds,
a Fayetteville thing to do. A regular pounds
the dregs of a Bloody Mary, and the heat
at 10 is already too much. It’s all
too much: the water bill, my promises,
her steady, undefeatable love. She says
no change can fault the way she feels or call

to question time — now thirteen years. But time
is the whole problem, its relentless march
away from that high school lunchroom, the boy
taunting the poor retarded kid in line
and her calling him out. Jesus, the arch
of her back. Her fists and hair. My shame and joy.




Soliloquy to the Peephole of Apartment 9

       with lines from Ovid and Goethe

The night is slipping away. Throw back the bolt.
I’ve no excuse, no right, no hope to soothe
these midnight consternations. Yes, I’m married:
She’s sleeping six doors down — you met last Tuesday.
You borrowed our detergent in the laundry.
And when she left to lay the baby down,
you and I, we sat, not talking not moving
our breath alone to meter that conspicuous
lack of manners and the half-inch remove
of your arm from mine. I’m sorry. I know
I shouldn’t be here, but you were reading Goethe
(Goethe in a laundry mat, who does that?)
so I’ve come to say I do not know myself
and God forbid I should
, I’ve come to say
a useless life is an early death, I’ve come
to say this morning I went for a run
around the lake. It was still dark. And mist
swallowed my whole life every dozen paces.
Have you ever done such a thing? Have you
watched your own breath condense, take shape, then clear,
rejoiced in that unleavened vanishing?
You’re thinking man is made by his belief,
thinking love can do much but duty more,
thinking how long you leaned your knee on mine.
The night is slipping away. And Goethe dead.
The night is slipping away. Throw back the bolt.




Camping in the Ouachita National Forest


Midnight, and my father’s God can’t see
in the dark. Coyotes do unto others
by the tinctures of blood, their panting

like the whispered chansons of saints.
Nightcrawlers know a kind of scripture,
driven to air on the ballasting dew.

A brood of raccoons has been waiting
all night for me to sleep. Noses raised,
they crouch at the edge of the camp

excommunicated in the firelight.
Pit stones carry their own commandments,
read nightly in the flame’s clipped tongue.

I recognize the language but not the words.
I grew up in woods like these, but for years
could not stand the sound of a summer night,

how something as frail as a cricket’s legs,
multiplied like the seraphim, host upon host,
might rattle the earth with its need.