Constant Laval Williams


Last night happened like this—
someone threw a hot knife into a snowbank

and I knew I must be alive. When I went in, 
the doctor was dead in his office, and outside

a firetruck sped backwards on fire. You stood
like a gumtree in a field, where beside you

a bony goat bowed in feast 
over the carcass of a vulture.


Oh YHWH yes, I wanted to become a Victorian robe
but instead became a knifetip pushing against tightly drawn silk.
There is a pile of syringes lying next to his gaping mouth.
There is a syringe left on top of the gravestone. 

Is it wrong of me to wish we were harder?
The needle’s eye coming in contact with bone-china
rather than wet clay? In the hospital bed she gathered him
like rags in her arms, and the world was a stench of colors.

Each face we hold in our hands a puncture—
on earth our yearning a needle-threaded ghost.
And the empty spaces of the city like patches
of skin reserved for the dead. And the broken glass.

And our bare feet. And a spear in the side. He overdosed
in the same back-seat where I tattooed a triangle
on his left ankle with a sewing needle.


I must ask—were you there with me? 
When the man ate glass in the alley 

because the other man gifted it to him?
We are such soft things. 

A hole in a snowbank. A needle’s eye.
Tonight will happen like this—

my mother will pull the head off a bird, 
and I’ll know you’re alive. 

After Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne”

They say the heaviest stone is the human body. 
Or maybe they said the heaviest stone is language, 
the language we keep inside us, that we may only speak 
underwater, when we feel our heaviest, when language 
becomes a fish with no fins, sinking into a deep blue 
that reminds us of the open sky. 

That vermillion language. Caught like a bourbon stain 
on the sleeves of our lives and hiccupped out 
at the start of drowning. 

We were drunk by ocean when you told me—
that your boy body was an opal millstone 
calcified by touch. That your lover was so perfect 
in her womanhood. The way her skin 
was jade in a forgotten stream. 

And what could I say to you? My stomach heavy with marbles 
I’d swallowed as a child, my mouth watering with wet pebbles 
another mouth had spit there before I could form words of my own. 
What could I say when you turned to me at dawn, skipping rocks 
across the ochre waves and said:

This is as close as we’ll ever get 
to walking on water. 


The dog in you bares its teeth—
a pregnant mutt birthing in a junkyard. 
To diagnose it would be to call it by a name. 
To call its name would be asking for it to follow.

A hand is wrapped around a cactus shaft. A wet herring
is dimpling a thigh. (Your thigh. Your thigh forever.)

The doctor says that when you start to kill others 
in your dreams, the healing will have begun.
That the rat with a man’s face is significant,
the endless running is towards something.

That would be nice, you think, in line at the pharmacy, 
to run until you reach the back of what’s chasing you.

Constant Laval Williams is a Los Angeles-born poet and former resident of Paris, France, 
where his writing first came of age. He studied Creative Writing at the University of 
Southern California where he received the Beau J. Boudreaux Poetry Award (judged by Nick 
Flynn). His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in The American Journal of Poetry, 
December Magazine, Hotel Amerika, Paris Lit Up, Papalota Negra and others. 
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