2022 Poetry Contest Second Place Winner: American Pastoral by John Sibley Williams

American Pastoral

by John Sibley Williams

Again, the wind sings the laundry from the line. 

Bleached of our stains, baptized by soap & sun, 


by a once mighty river gone arroyo & a handed- 

down washboard bartered for a grandmother’s


dreams, what we’ve worn to keep the world 

from our bodies eddies out over the barbed


fence between neighbors, severing the gray  

halo plumes of not-distant-enough factories, 


all these empty pallets of shorn meadows,  

deerless wood, clapboard churches & the holy 


specters of fathers roped to stakes to terrify 

the crows—all that hay & newsprint a symbol, 


I’m told, for something: maybe witness, maybe rusty

hinge, home—maybe like contrails the t-shirt my brother 


killed himself in & the overalls he once carved angels 

into snow with & the wild whorls of my mother’s  


chemo wig & the tutu my daughter whose body 

thinks itself a boy’s cherishes like prayer; all 


the houses we’ve built around the house we live in 

my socks & underwear & regret & love just keep 


whistling past like a hymn, a migratory bird, like 

light before we divvy it up into ours/yours; before 


piecing our myths back together into a history, there’s this 

tender wind I tell my daughter she can hold in her hands. 



John Sibley Williams is the author of nine poetry collections, including Scale Model of a Country at Dawn (Cider Press Review Poetry Award), The Drowning House (Elixir Press Poetry Award), As One Fire Consumes Another (Orison Poetry Prize), Skin Memory (Backwaters Prize, University of Nebraska Press), and Summon (JuxtaProse Chapbook Prize). His book Sky Burial: New & Selected Poems is forthcoming in translated form by the Portuguese press do lado esquerdo. A twenty-seven-time Pushcart nominee, John is the winner of numerous awards, including the Wabash Prize for Poetry, Philip Booth Award, Phyllis Smart-Young Prize, and Laux/Millar Prize. He serves as editor of The Inflectionist Review and founder of the Caesura Poetry Workshop series. Previous publishing credits include Best American Poetry, Yale Review, Verse Daily, North American Review, Prairie Schooner, and TriQuarterly.