Review: “disinheritance” by John Sibley Williams

By John Sibley Williams
Apprentice House
77 pages

In his new collection, Sibley travels through loss and grief into emotional dispossession and then a little further. He skillfully uses language as a tool to figure out how to deal with his pain and move forward. In the collection’s first poem, “Bone River (i),” Williams juxtaposes his child, who “experiments with her limbs, displacing air and waiting for the vacancy to fill” with a stone in a river. The narrator’s rhetorical question “What is it here I have done and am waiting for?” is echoed by a question, similar in nature, that the stone asks the river: “Have I broken you yet?”  This poem sets the tone, both thematically and philosophically, for the entire collection.

In “November Country,” Williams writes, “My grandfather digs a double plot with his bare hands in case winter can be shared,” and although he could give him a shovel, he choses to, “ball the half-frozen river’s slack numb around (his) fist, tighten into ice.” While the grandfather is acceptant of the inevitable, the narrator endeavors to do what cannot be done in life with his words. Williams often uses language to defy life’s restrictions.

Another example of how William transcends this world’s limitations is in “Mother’s Day,” where he says he, “can shave (his) face with a memory,” allowing the past to be as close to the skin as a razor. On this day, he allows himself to “plant color back into dead flowers, warmth back into the cemetery bench.” So even though the memories have the ability to be painful, there is also a sense that life goes on, that there is still color and comfort to appreciate even during the most difficult times.

However, so much of life is unfair, especially the loss of a child or the loss of the ability to conceive and how does one recover from this type of loss? In “Fertility,” Williams asks, “Can I say that a child dies inside of us when all we have conceived is a name for what could be?” Even though not everyone has lost a child or has been pained by an inability to conceive, everyone has wanted and not received, and has grieved what could have been and that is what Williams addresses in this piece. In this piece,  the symbol is a cradle they built, “of nails and wood to house a body too busy dying to rest, a trophy grief we polish in case of tomorrow.” This image haunts the reader and reminds us that no matter how much you want, you don’t always get and you have to deal with that sense of loss. Furthermore, our losses are not always understood by our friends, we endure them alone in our own way as seen in the last stanza, “Our friends have their mantra the world will wait for you and we have our reply spelled out in silence.” However we chose to experience loss is up to us, but this collection undoubtedly is bursting with language expressing the profound nature of transcending grief through the power of words.