As Lazarus and Self-Portrait as Sin-Eater

As Lazarus

How deep is deep enough 
until I reach the bent rafters 
of my own ribcage? I test 
the extent of my dimensions. This—

this is an effort of pencil checks,
measuring-tape & desperation.
Behind the drywall of sternum
& knucklebone, I am certain
that the same thing that aches 
in the attic is what keeps it 
standing. How far down is it?
That place I’m afraid to name.
That place where God lives. 

I’m pressing up against the door—
an angry thumb against a tooth,
snapped loose in my mouth.
How long have I been straining
at the concrete slab of my own
foundations, barely making a scratch? 
Again—again, I’ve been asking God 
for permission to uproot my life 
like a weed in the asphalt, to split 
the stem of my spine & let me sleep.
Again—again, he keeps telling me no.

Self-Portrait as Sin-Eater

“a loafe of bread was brought out, and delivered to the 
Sinne-eater over the corps…and sixpence in money, in 
consideration whereof he tooke upon him…all the 
Sinnes of the Defunct”
            —E. Sidney Hartland, 1892

Sometimes I catch myself        returning 
to the forest where       thick in the underbrush I buried 
my youth & its fragility         its prayers        its bullets.    

I had encapsulated       my violence, pushed back the soil 
& dropped its fragments        foul seeds        into the earth, 
dropped the shots I promised        God & myself        I’d never spend.

In that woods      I circled back      just in case 
someone had seen me shovel in          the dirt, circled 
back      to find it dug back up. 

I catch myself returning       to find the corpse 
of every pale wreckage I’ve worked against        my ambition, 
set exquisite with gold             quartz      

pomegranate         & just one place setting— 
a sparrow          vivisected          feathers 
spread across the plate        & a handful of bullets.

Under the shade          of a willow’s dense sweat
I wept                swallowed small bones & bullets’ lead
& hoped no one was there        to see it.

More from Ian Williams