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JL Williams: Five Poems – Scottish Review of Books
by SRB

JL Williams: Five Poems

June 9, 2017 | by SRB

Coney Island Blues

He said he had a carnival way of looking at the world;
all cotton candy and girls in white hot pants,
hot dog eating contests, A&W Root Beer,
sandy French fries and the bottoms of the feet
hot with splinters from the boardwalk
and the metal floor of the swinging car
in the greatest Ferris wheel ever made – the one that
makes your stomach full of sugar and love
feel like coming out your mouth while he waits for you
on the finale of the pier
watching the waves roll in, listening to
laughter and screams in
whatever so many languages; Spanglish,
Russian, Joisey, oi! ‘Mi Dios,’ ‘Meine liebe…’
‘Il vostro cuore è bello a me!’
Best slice of pizza this side of the Atlantic.

He was there when you came down,
dizzy and high on Coney Island,
and you thought there was some strength in that,
in the fact that he was waiting for you
and that he came back to you, then,
before the dark took over
and the Ferris wheel rusted
and the light bulbs smashed
and the salt of the sea ate the wood of the pier away.

What remains are the parts of him, difficult
as any of this to reassemble:
his festival eyes, his flush lips,
his sun-licked continent of skin that was,
for a time, your country.


The father and his father and his daughter.
The father and the ship and the sea.
The father and the daughter and the missing proper names of long-lost souls.

The ship, the sea and the innocent sky.
The guileless ship and the sugar and slaves.
The slaves and the helpless sun and sea.

The sugar and the slaves and skin coated in sweat and the sweetest grains.
The sea and salt and sacred blue whales singing fathoms below the ships.
The father and the mother and the mistress.

The paper of a thirsty tongue, and the blue-black ink and the call to field.
The mother’s breast heavy with milk, and the tiny body and the mouth of sea.
The clanking of the iron chains and the skin rubbed raw and the stench of burnt hair.

The mother and the mistress and the daughter.
The mother and the suicide note and the long-gone father’s missing keys.
The daughter and the ship and her need.

The ship, the sugar and the coast of gold.
The lips and the sugar and the panting waves.
The sun and melting sugar and guns.

The daughter, the unknown father and dreams.
The sail and water hot as shame, and the worthless tears viscous as sea.
The mother and silence and apology.

The sugar shed and the ghosts of boats and the sea shot through with memory.
The father and the daughter and the wind.
The sugared ropes and the rum and kelp.

The golden bell that is no longer rung and the rusted anchors and the broken masts.
The aching barrels and the rotting sacks and the ship’s cathedral assayed by rats.
The blown bulb of sky, and the legacy and scars.

The birds whose beaks are white with salt, and flying fish and blood red suns.
The buildings with their crumbling facades and empty shops and silent streets.
The graveyard and the whitening bones and the gravestones carved with ship and sail.

The madness and the burning heat and the sweet mirage of winter’s snow.
The mother and her furrowed brow and a cloth dipped in a cooling brew.
The singing of the father’s song, and the holy wafer and the sugared wine.


what kind of lullaby in the rocking chair
so life ain’t fair no life’s not fair

the boys they go to war they shoot their loads
it’s all they know this is their school
the babies’ limbs like souvenirs
their belts heavy with baby hair

what kind of lullaby in the rocking chair
so life ain’t fair no life’s not fair

the girls they bump beneath the boys
they wear no clothes they wear lipstick
they smoke white weed and never scream
be quiet now you little girls
and kiss the boys they’ll love you bad
they’ll leave you soon they’re all you have

what kind of lullaby in the rocking chair
so life ain’t fair no life’s not fair

and in their suits the old men piss
in goldfish bowls to collect gold
they trade their bowls for baby food
and burn it in their living rooms
their wives shop for the household tools
underwear and second-hand shotguns

what kind of lullaby in the rocking chair
so life ain’t fair no life’s not fair

you drink your pint and talk your shite
it’s politics but you are safe
you go home to a feather bed
you work and oil the wheeled machine
your tears a daily ritual
but no one cares and no one sees

what kind of lullaby in the rocking chair
so life ain’t fair no life’s not fair

your momma told you life ain’t fair and it made you cry
your momma told you stop your crying you ain’t nowhere

you never gonna be nowhere
you ain’t never gonna be nowhere

Étude du temps

There is beneath glass
Notre Dame’s jewel-bright collection of colours
in a no name shop on a back street in Paris
whose cobbles glint in late afternoon half-sun.

There, in shadows cast by lace,
bronze telescopes focused on stars
by a gentleman whose bones are dust
last century when the air tasted more of coal, there,

a thousand glittering butterflies
are pinned in time, sunning their wings,
awaiting the movement of cloud,
the lifting breeze.

There you are, caught
in a beam of coloured light,
your hand outstretched.

Rules of the Game

For all the pitcher wills the flying ball,
for all the batter longs the bat to kiss
the ball’s white skin,
fate’s rules confound desire, comprehension.

At the end of the day, all we know is this –
when you miss, you miss.

From this Issue

That Old Thing

by Suria Tei

Flowers of Scotland

by David Black

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