archives fall 2007



Johnny Appleseed Contemplates Heaven

                 “Swedenborgian doctrine, which holds that everything here
                 on Earth corresponds directly to something in the afterlife,
                 might explain the strange and wonderful ways Chapman
                 conducted himself in nature.”
                                                —from The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan

The Angel Chapman with His sacks of seed.  How like
to me? I sometimes wonder, feedsack
shirt?  Cooking pot for headgear?
His feet are bare.

Who told thee that thou wast naked?

(For crushing a worm, I’ve made John’s earthly sole to suffer
mortification of flesh, cast off its shoe leather.)

I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed;
it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.

There is in Heaven one thing & on Earth
its counterpart,

And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden 

that we may know the Lord’s Ways.

and out of the ground made the Lord God to grow
every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food.

Thus, the Celestial orchards, their bees,

And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden
of Eden to dress it and to keep it

the Sower more Beautiful than Ohio John,

the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree
of knowledge of good and evil
as the fruit and the Heavenly worms are more, and the blossoms a Perfection
of Eternal transience.  Seraphs like wasps cluster
the windfalls              Of every tree in the garden thou mayest freely eat

                       already flowing with Honey of ferment.  Desire

And when the woman saw that it was . . . a tree to be desired
to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat 

which is There the yearning for God & drunkenness

I will make mine arrows drunk with blood, and my sword shall devour flesh.

the Knowledge.  I will hide my face from them.  For Paradise

Behold the man is become as one of us, to know
good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand and take
also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever    
earthly Apple-John eats of the Fruit, seeking its Stars.

In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.                                         

I scatter my sackfuls along the Ohio, for the Flood

and a river went out of Eden to water the Garden

of cider running out of Eden.  For Revelation, Lord.


Learning Again to Call the Sun

Reach.  Flex.  Rotate the wrist.  The fingers
must remember to squeeze.  Making

the arm do what it wants to forget, training
it to increments of pain.  The risk,

he says, with this kind of fracture is freezing.
Like in the dream:  Going back

to what now hurts.  When I was a Mesopotamian
priestess, mummy-wrapped in a linen

sheath, smooth and slim as polished bone.
Body that, even then, I knew wasn’t mine,

face I couldn’t guess.  When I was fearful,
slipping back to the temple I’d had

to flee long ago (from what threat?).  Hour before
dawn, when the air was quicksilver.

In a private room, dressing for the dance
of Call-Forth-the-Sun I could no longer perform

by heart, by body.  Would have to teach myself.  Reach. 
Flex.  Before a beaten-metal mirror, placing

the silver-gilt headdress on a sweep
of black hair.  Over the fixed, unfamiliar face.

My arm is now this foreigner.  Rotate
and squeeze.  Learning again to grasp.

Making myself remember.  After the dream,
when I didn’t know if I’d ever performed

the ceremony or stayed frozen
before the mirror’s face, if I were still

in danger, I walked out in the mercury-dawn.
I was just coming back to poetry then.  I thought

it was a metaphor.  Morning star
somewhere behind the trees,

where a little horned moon hung,
still hung, an old reflex, tracing the curve

of an elbow once extended and now bowed
back against the bracing arm.  So suddenly new

I couldn’t be sure I was walking in wet grass or leading
the acolytes, hand cupped to beckon, arm out.


Murder:  A Pocket Grammar

Preposition of the trigger.
Pointed at.  Pulled
and the body falls.  Distanced,
you watch the crumple, cause
becoming effect.  You feel only
exploding into, not collapse, hear
for the moment only the roar of.

Blade a conjunction.  So you feel
all the way up your arm, not
from far off, the body
opening to you, releasing.
Knees turn to sponge.  You sweat,
and your salt can’t be extracted
from the other salt, metallic,
red, slicking your grip.
So the body in surrender shudders you.

Pillow over the face—sweet adverb:
Peacefully.  In her sleep.
You too adverbial—silently, invisibly,
in the dark.  Your fingers remembering
only forgiveness of down.

Poison, that intransitive verb.
You sprinkle, pour.  In another sentence,
on another page,
someone gags, groans—not yet body,
still human, in his curious dance
of jerking and vomit.
You don’t even see.  It’s nothing
to do with you.

And after everything, the hard,
immovable nouns:  Judgment.  Grave.



                May it be right to tell what I have heard . . .
                That I describe the deep world sunk in darkness
                Under the earth.
                                —The Aeneid (Fitzgerald  translation)

I see nothing—the nothing that last week
was a road.  I’m as close to the barrier as I can get.
Sinkhole.  Fissure.  Chasm.  Hauled-in rock

in useless piles, asphalt crumbles.  I don’t know it,
this gulf, except in dreams, and a half-remembered
history of coal veins so long played out

the rights to them no longer appear
as clouds on titles of surface land.  In law,
there’s nothing wrong.  This road—its dirt and tar—

spilling into the old web of tunnels, returned
from the upper world.  “Chthonic,” “of earth,”
scholars’ term for worship of the buried dead

and their deep world with its ores.  Pluto’s
name means “riches,” but here the miners
were slaves—go down, stranger, where there is

no day and your voice comes back to you in moans,
a hundred mouths with rushing voices.  Cave-ins,
explosions, breath smothered in soot.  Still, someone

can always be made to go underground.
The men in my father’s stalag dug, week on
week, night after night, with spoons and jar lids

under floorboards and a bunk, pockets filled
with dirt to carefully palm on the exercise field
during softball games.  Late and silent,

the last night, they surfaced in deep woods,
beyond barbed wire and searchlight towers.
Two prisoners mimed goodbyes and crawled

out of sight.  My father was meant to be the next
(May it be right to tell what I have heard), but dawn
turned him back, once more he’d have to wait

for dark.  The guards that morning herded them
to the field without their bats and balls.
Another sport instead:  two bodies dumped

across each other in the dust, eyes fixed
on darkness, dark crusts around the narrow gape
of mouths, hair black and stiff with blood.

Two bodies—and my father saved (Unconquered
friend, throw earth on me, the unburied beg
Aeneas)—and the secret dirt they’d mined and carried

and scattered on the diamond, sliding home.
Tunnel dust, coal dust, flurries up a moment,
then settles, sinks down where it started from. 


Susan Settlemyre Williams is the author of a chapbook, Possession (Finishing Line Press, 2007).  Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Mississippi Review, 42opus, Shenandoah, Sycamore Review, the Marlboro Review, and Poetry Southeast, among other journals.  Her poem “Lighter” won the 2006 Diner Poetry Contest and was selected for Best New Poets 2006.  She is book review editor and associate literary editor of Blackbird and lives in Richmond, Virginia.