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                              That with intent—pure

as any born of subjugation & erasure; christened

          holy by those who’ve spent their lives

defining it for others—to make cathedrals of

their bodies, if not their souls (should they have them,

like beasts worshipped for their sustenance who may yet hold

                              certain keys to certain unopenable doors).

There is no metaphor for loving the world so hard

it falls freely on your sword, gives its entirety

to your gods. There is no saving, only offering.


When that fire enters, each bone unburnt

is a failure, a reason to love fiercer—no mild graces

ever expanded an empire inward. Inward the breath

                         the children hold to play dead. To play

                                                 dead, the children nestle

                                     back into their mothers’

bodies, already draining of their heavens. That they didn’t know

the path until shown—glorious, gold-rimmed & relentless

as a born-into slavery. A worn-in field. Toppled altar. Becoming

                                                          human, finally, in yoke & hallelujah.

Listen to "Moment Musicaux, Op. 16 No. 4" by Sergei Rachmaninov (performed here by Nikolai Lugansky), selected to accompany "Conquistador," below:

00:00 / 02:51

JOHN SIBLEY WILLIAMS is the author of As One Fire Consumes Another (Orison Poetry Prize, 2019), Skin Memory (Backwaters Prize, University of Nebraska Press, 2019), Summon (JuxtaProse Chapbook Prize, 2019), Disinheritance, and Controlled Hallucinations. A twenty three-time Pushcart nominee, John is the winner of numerous awards, including the Wabash Prize for Poetry, Philip Booth Award, American Literary Review Poetry Contest, Laux/Millar Prize, Phyllis Smart-Young Prize, Janet B. McCabe Poetry Prize, and others. He serves as editor of The Inflectionist Review and works as a poetry editor and literary agent. Previous publishing credits include: The Yale Review, North American Review, Midwest Quarterly, Southern Review, Sycamore Review, Prairie Schooner, The Massachusetts Review, Poet Lore, Saranac Review, Atlanta Review, TriQuarterly, Columbia Poetry Review, Mid-American Review, Poetry Northwest, Third Coast, and various anthologies. He lives in Portland, Oregon.

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