John Sibley Williams

If I had known, I would have tested
the rope for strain & pull. I would have
scraped the salt from its weakening mast,
layered resin & fiberglass, plugged each hole.

If I had known all boats eventually yield
to the current, I would have readied myself
long ago—as a youth, or before that, a son
still sucking sea-spit from stones & casting

them back, as if there’s a going back after
you’ve held something in your mouth long
enough to taste. & lose.  I would have asked
different questions—ones with answers.

I would have believed my father
when he said you can’t drink saltwater
& so all oceans are thirsty. I would
have let that statement wound me.

That old detonation of autumn—its brilliant
scattering, its violent crimson breaking up
the trees into green & gone, its storms.
A better boy; I would have sat on the peer

all night, every night, like my mother, dress
wet up to her knees, fingers a loosening
cathedral. I would have stowed away beneath
my bed—a kind of prayer that’s not a prayer at all.