Kenny Williams

The Moth & The Column

Kenny Williams

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The Moth

I never could tell whether my editor thought

I was a poet playing God or a creationist

being sarcastic. 


Count them, Cathy, I would say,

the Days of Creation, played in reverse,

starting with the woman climbing into the man

like a hide-and-seek kid into a wardrobe,

and the man climbing down into the reddish dust

of broken bricks, and all the flying things

and residents of sea and lair

climbing into successively less

complex renditions of themselves,

and the violent waters and the conscientiously

objecting land, and peace and love,

and hope and change one and the same,

and the darkness like a Plague

of Darkness falling…


Cathy was closer to me than any human animal

had ever been, a hovering ghost disguised

as a headless lady.


The view from her parapet in the early eve

offered the viewer the bloodless bullethole

of the sun, searing itself into the brain,

the brain standing at attention, gazing out

toward the scrub that had grown for eons

between Cathy’s sad little parapet and the sea

and that grew, so slowly, into a wall of thick

black trees, with the sun standing before it. 

(Between the viewer and the trees.) 


Haven’t you ever wanted to say something serious?

she would say. Haven’t you ever admired the moth

like a fleck of ash from a distant fire? 

Its designation in Latin breaks into a blaze

of prism color. Write that.


Here I would fling myself against the wall

and hang there for support. But for my breathing

she would have asked herself for forty minutes

by the clock if I was dead. But I was the moth

playing dead in the early eve, as what moth-like thing

in the early eve would not? 


The Column

Brother, I’m tucking this into you bucket

of provisions. A little cheese, two peaches. Six days

ago you climbed to the top of this column

and your work clothes are down here with me,

standing stiff with cement where you left them. 

Are they as mad as you at God for not existing?

A guy showed me a print in a book he brought, a woman

held up serenely, on an invisible string,

and he wanted it to make me think of you,

but you said pictures like that and questions like mine,

without good answers or explanations, you can only look at

through a prism, as though through, beyond belief or dis-,

and you’ll see in the jillion angles there is

no question, no picture, nothing really real. So I give up.

I’m moving our chicken coops to the foot of your column.

It’s been six days, Kevin. What is this, really?

Also, why don’t you drink from the canteens I’m hoisting up?

If you’re embarrassed to pee from up there just remember

I’m usually busy throwing feed or filling canteens or cleaning up

after the crowds that have started forming to witness.

It was me, right, that taught you how to aim for the pot?

Like I even knew. I always thought since the earth is bigger

than you you might as well go with it and squat.

There’s no danger of you being snatched into the clouds,

where the sun is struggling to hide its light, and your column,

good and steady in itself for your having built it

under cover of night, will never touch its forehead

to the ground, at least not more than once. Sometimes

in the morning it looks like the fog up from the reservoir

has carried off or gnawed away your column’s foot

but left the rest upright in the air, with you on top,

on your knees, that singe of brown hair across your chest

and the rest of you clean and pale as an egg laid by mistake

in the dim water of a runoff barrel. And get this:

Yesterday two girls broke from the crowd with smiles

and started talking to your clothes like they could answer.

They just stood there, tired of stupid questions. I bit my lip

for pleasure, forcing annoyance into pain. How long will you

be up there, confessing to God God knows what, slumped

like one of those dolls they used to use to scare us

from having kids, with a knack for looking realistically

asleep, jerking upright when you least expect?

And when I say God you know who I’m talking about.

You’re thinking too hard about how the silver

clouds have these leaden linings. I’ve been to school

like everybody else. I can see the clouds from the ground

as plain as you can from your column.

So why does the sun waste its time trying

to hide behind them all the time? Like they said,

Come down from there and we will believe in you.

It’s harder for God to hide from us than let us

see him, but he can. Who ever learned best without

a teacher, Kevin? I do miss you. I love you, too.

Come down, please? Your sister, C. 




Kenny Williams


Kenny Williams’ first book, Blood Hyphen, won the 2015 FIELD Poetry Prize and is available through Oberlin College Press, US. His poems have appeared most recently in Prairie Schooner, Gulf Coast, the New Orleans Review web features, theBellevue Literary Review, and the Sewanee Review. He holds degrees from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and the University of Virginia, and lives in Richmond, Virginia.