archives fall 2008



Imaginary Letter: South Richmond, 1972

Dear Sister: A mean place here—cramped,
decrepit houses blacken under a snow

of factory soot. Where I work: The ex-enlisted men
double-dip pensions and civil service pay, compiling
pointless directives no one will read. My section’s lodged

in a warehouse from World War Two;
for ceilings, surplus parachutes slung from the beams,
and no one wants to think what’s breeding

in those grim silk clouds. Everyone sniffles, hawks.
God knows what I’m taking into this germ
of generation I’ve started—I dream two heads,

a missing foot. Imaginary sister, more invisible
than the baby to come—at least I watch my belly grow,

can see the sturdy thump on my flesh (maybe two feet
after all). But you are my younger who, my where I want to be.

(Grandmother’s dark hallway, where gardenia scent
can always take me: summer stillness thick as the petals

of the bloom in her cut-glass bowl, fragrance mixed
with odor of old wood. Let me be there, beginning.) Not here.

Not here. Even my morning drive hurts—gas stations
and cheap apartments sprouting in pastureland. I pass
An abandoned greenhouse in a field: broken glass,

spilled pots—though yesterday a vine had climbed
up through the roof and was tumbling orange
flowers over the side. No, not orange—vermilion.

So brilliant I must have daydreamed the color, the vine,
while waiting for our two crossing gates (train track,
then guardhouse) to lift and let me get on with the day.


Miriam beside the River

What I can see between the reeds:
eternity in narrow pillars of water and sun—
or the stillness between birth and the shout,

before rage fills and shatters
the air.  The little coracle, pitch-sealed,
barely rocks, a murmur of movement

that could go on through infinity,
like the steady small flares of pain up my cramped
thighs, like heartbeat and muffled breath—

before voices fill the river room, laughter
of women, splashing and song
and the husky cry begun inside the swaddling,

a woman’s bangled arms reaching
into the rushes—and I mustn’t weep
to witness history spanked and yowling into life.  


Susan Settlemyre Williams is the author of Ashes in Midair, winner of the Many Mountains Moving Poetry Book Contest (Many Mountains Moving Press, 2008) and a chapbook, Possession (Finishing Line Press, 2007).  Her poetry has recently appeared in Mississippi Review, Sycamore Review, Diner, and 42opus, among other journals, as well as in the first issue of diode, and in anthologies, including Best New Poets 2006 and Letters to the World.  She is book review editor and associate literary editor of Blackbird and lives in Richmond, Virginia.