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  • Conversation: Tree & Cotton, and: Vapor, and: I Ararat (First Ararat)
  • Phillip B. Williams (bio)

Conversation: Tree & Cotton

Goddamn! Everybody knows about Mississippi.

      What wind say in my tresses,                                                                              blessing and scar            what wind say in my blackbirded boughs,                                              in my white flashbulbsknotted into fists of ash, is canticle.                                           and pale rustling snaked into full moan.


As though you could know what it feels like:                   Everyone relies on my upward scale for profit:            the gesticulation of whatever height                    whatever thread-ready boll I bubble forth,I reach, is major testament. Is possibility                         the dusty cough from root teo bowel to bloom,            something you can look forward to?                     the purest sphere on earth, the main forceOf the crop: we love most the fruit                               pulled by black hands cut clean knuckle to wrist.

Everybody knows

about the shadow of the pendulum, its soothing swing                         exactly what this plantation needs.a call to witnessing, a prelude to fire.                           My body bursts to life a worse blaze in the fields.

You don’t have to live nest to meYou don’t have to break your men and womeninto gospel shards and neck-twist moan.

Field song tambourined by field hands                           Slapping their faces in unison, hands againstears, deaf from heat anxiety.                                                 the senses humming pick white pick quick.

Lord have mercy on this land of mine!

              and for the ones who try to run away from my bark     Have mercy on the lostlost in the forest, in the dark woods of                                and their downward spiral logic of “freedom”.They want to avoid meeting the sun                                     In the open soil, clothed by my infinite beard,    in the tree, hellhounds gnawing their own tongues                      hungry for some cry they done heardstarving for the picnic to begin. O roast him                                        in the picking ground. Black angelson my creaking shoulder, lay him vertical on this God                                 fearing land. I am cloud,            bed of sky and more sky.                                                         All the heaven they ever need.

Oh but this whole country is full of liesYou’re all gonna die and die like flies

        What do you know of this ritual:                                   What do you know of this psalm:Wind-sucked skin, violent seasons,                              this coming and going death—what do you know?                                Of the maggoted gods they make my leaves, the piles of skin around my roots?Of ghosts in your hair?                                                             Ghosts spilling suddenly from your mouth?

Everybody knowsLet the earth decide whose wreath twistsinto the strangest syllables: spine crack burden, niggers’ luscious tick-tock,necks pivoted into impossibility.Everybody knows about Mississippi.Goddamn! [End Page 449]



Still, on my thighI feel his hands. I knowthey’re just breadcrumbsin a marble-spun urn,a mantelpiece patientnot to tip onto the torn carpetin front of a fireplace stillcoughing up fragmentsof a love poem tossedinto its unstable mouth,lisping each syllableon its tongues’bright oblivion.


The obituary readslike an online dating profilelong-abandoned, mildly visited.

Sister Patterson fansher luminescent foreheadwith the folded 8×11

sheet of printing paperpictured-up black and whitewith a specter’s photograph:

Taken 1987—Greasy sittingon a tree trunk in Garfield Park, waitingfor the Num. 2 bus.

Beneath his square toes, a puddleof piss from the neighborhooddrunk that his Mama swore was golden

rain that came and stayed.Inside the liquid’s circle,you can make out wind

mocking the creasein Greasy’s brow, fleetingvow of skin.


Smoke billows from the fireplace, an exhalein frozen air playing he loves me he loves me not

with its own unending body. Transient,in the higher stretches of sunlight, it knots

against the brick-framed pipe, unravelsfrom its night-tint pulse. And what’s not

to love about those trees, still splitting their woodin the wind’s rotting vocabulary?—O knotted

buds stunned shut by a winter too long, it’s coldin here, too. Hiss open your blooming. Nothing

too good of a gown: a sheath of leaves, my arms’frameless curtains, a tepid memory here then not. [End Page 450]



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pp. 449-451
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