top of page


Phillip B. Williams 

First Words

A storm and so a gift. 
     Its swift approach 
          lifts gravel from the road. 
A fence is flattened in 
     the course of the storm's 
          worse attempt at language-- 
thunder's umbrage. A tree 
     is torn apart, 
          blown upward through a bedroom 
window. A boy winnows 
     through the pile 
          of shards for the sharpest parts
from the blown-apart 
     glass. He has 
          a bag that holds found edges 
jagged as a stag's
     horns or smooth as 
          a single pane smashed into 
smaller panes that he sticks 
     his hand inside 
          to make blood web across 
his acheless skin flexing 
     like fish gills 
          O-lipped for a scream
they cannot make.
     He wants to feel 
          what his friends have felt, 
the slant of fear on their faces 
     he could never 
          recreate, his body born 
without pain. When his skin's 
     pouting welts 
          don't rake a whimper 
from his mouth, he runs 
     outside, arms up 
          for the storm, aluminum 
baseball bat held out 
     to the sky 
          until lightning, with an electric 
tongue, makes his viscera 
          the boy's first word for pain
     is the light's 
          new word for home.



Help me distinguish between approaching blizzard
and his breath against my ear, causing my skin
to whistle like a blade of grass. Please, help me keep 
my mind at ease when he trembles beneath me, cold-
hot and wet, wet all over. The sheets have been 
soaked and wrung and bleached. The carpet 
vacuumed, the kitchen floor swept. God, help me keep 
a clean home, keep the roaches' running prayers 
from competing with my own, keep the rats 
from gnawing on the bread with filth and squeak. 
Plastic won't keep ice crystals from making 
a second pane over the window, won't keep 
the don't-give-a-damn cold from coming in 
and lingering beneath our feet. Give me feet 
that can sing, that can sing all over this floor 
like a drum battalion, stomp out the pests 
and their late night coitus, stomp out winter
crawling from beneath the floorboard, stomp out 
the fever pouring from his never-dry back.
I want to heal like You do. God, let me walk on water.


                                             According to America's Most Wanted, "Around 3:00 a.m. on                                                         February 17, 2005, 
                                             New York City transit workers found two suspicious bags                                                             alongside the track at the 
                                             Nostrand Avenue station in Brooklyn."

When Rashawn Brazell went missing, 
the first trash bag of his body parts 
hadn't seen his head, didn't know where 
it could be. The subway tracks spat 
no sparks for him; the stairway light 
to the train flickered no S.O.S.; 
the recycling plant uncoiled 
no ribbon of six-pack plastic to offer 
evidence, condolence. Workers 
at the recycling plant found a morbid gift,
limbs bagged up like trash. No head 
to say a name or claim his body scattered 
like false clues across Brooklyn. A shovel 
holds memory better than any mourner, 
rain carrying the sweet sting of pine 
in its translucent purse, bird shit 
from a nearby headstone washed by a storm 
to the ground; the shovel blade holds
it all--the tears and the grass and the rain's 
borrowed scent covers the dead 
with a choir of things to hold. Song 
in the mother mourning, mourning 
what is left to hold, holding her one 
long note, holding on to its impossible 
fermata, to the throat's quaking acreage, 
to the diaphragm's bellow; the note holds on 
and won't let go, is shaped by this holding, 
and is changed by the woman it enters 
and changes. Song is changed. She is changed. 
And the city is lightless, O God so still. 

-from Thief in the Interior

BIO: Phillip B. Williams was born in Chicago, Illinois. He is the author of the chapbooks Bruised Gospels (Arts in Bloom Inc., 2011), Burn (YesYes Books, 2013), and a forthcoming collection, Thief in the Interior (Alice James Books, 2016). Williams is a Cave Canem graduate and the poetry editor of the online journal Vinyl Poetry. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Callaloo, Kenyon Review Online, The Southern Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, West Branch, Blackbird and others. Williams is currently a Chancellor’s Graduate fellow at Washington University in St. Louis, where he is completing an MFA in creative writing.

bottom of page