from Rings

by Ian Williams



Problem is our armpits and crotches are feathered
with cobwebs. Problem is she leaks soft-boiled eggs
or I package seedless grapes. Problem is her parents
made us wait until that had crossed the width
of my nose. Problem is she has a migraine. Problem is
we did not want children. Problem is we did
not want each other until too late. Problem is I can’t be
late for work in the morning. Problem is this morning
she says she dreamt she was holding a sandwich bag
of crickets. Problem is I am already late and listening
to the weather. Problem is we don’t speak
to the problem. Problem is the school bus
that stops in front of our townhouse just as I’m reversing

the problem is we don’t know who

But we did not want children. But we did
not want a townhouse either. But we got
a townhouse in a field of children with round
dimpled faces. But we did not want girls.
But we saw them in ribbon and crinoline
at church. But we did not want boys. But
we saw them squeezing frogs near the ravine.
But we did not want children. But they knocked
on our door with UNICEF cartons and chocolate
almonds. But we did not buy. But we bought.
But they wore soccer uniforms and ballet leotards
under their winter coats. But they sat in their mother’s
car as she dropped off the Avon. But we were surrounded by

pregnant women who grew round around

Or we could get a Pekingese. Give me children, or else I die.
Or a Siamese cat. Give me children, or else I die. Or we could
redecorate with glass and steel and pointy corners
in the best modern way. Give me children, or else I die. Or else
move to a ch-ching penthouse. Give me children,
or else I die.
Or throw parties and serve canapés. Give me
children, or else I die.
Or travel by train from farther to further
every spring. Give me children, or else I die. Or we could spend
the evenings counting our gold. Give me children, or else
I die.
Or become the cool aunt and uncle. Give me children,
or else I die.
Or sponsor a child or buy a goat. Give me children,
or else I die.
Or buy a hybrid or recycle more or run
a shelter or feed the poor or bike for cancer or knit for preemies

or else give me children or else give me children

Notes on the Poem

You often hear vibrant prose or poetry described as being assembled of words that "leap off the page." How about when words spin off the page? Ian Williams has managed this feat to heartwrenching effect in his poem "Rings" from his 2013 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlisted collection "Personals." Williams achieves a unique sense of repetition with the circular layout of key phrases in the poem. It isn't clear when those phrases stop or start ... not unlike emotionally fraught conversations where the same things seem to be repeated again and again, only culminating in heightened frustration, not clarity. That layout also introduces ambiguity. Where do the phrases begin and end? Depending where you as the reader choose to commence changes the meaning of each phrase, doesn't it? Interestingly, when Williams presents the poem, he enticingly neglects to insert clear starts and stops himself. By design, the poet offers new meanings and nuances for the poem every time it is read, on the page or aloud.

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