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Spencer Williams

Sonnet #1


In the first box: a spread of birdwing, talons

curved like hangnails, a gutted fish

cratered and entwined. The panel of glass

separating us from tableau retains

a child’s imprint, five fingers pressed in shadow,

greasy spirits. In a museum, everything is 

ornament. Posed, stuffed with an almost-aliveness. 

The animals, the garbs. Stolen, encased. 

In the second box where the modeled snakes angle 

mid-strike, my reflection reeks of venom. How 

to become that which can withstand paralysis? 

Every creature here is off, incurable. I stare into 

the glossy eyes of a bear, feel cold while doing it. Once, 

I was loved in a way that I can only describe as feral.


Sonnet #2

I was loved in a way that I can only describe as feral.

It was a hopeless endeavor, not something one could

feed or water in the hopes of bettering. Though I tried, 

I could not drag the weight home. The story goes: the rape, 

and the after. I said “loved” when I didn’t. I watched man stand

naked next to ape in a model room of sticks and grasses. Natural

history. An empty exhibit decides to fill itself, determines our fate

without us. Men become men post-living as animal. Brows inscribed 

with serpentine lines smooth out, a textured lack. In the lobby, 

large bones marry themselves into a towering neck. Visitors ogle

underneath. If you can picture bones with feathers, then perhaps 

you can imagine this. I was floating, and when I landed, I was not 

found for millions of years. I have no other stories but this one.

I had to reconstruct my doom to know where I had been.


Sonnet #3


I had to reconstruct my doom to know where I had been.

In the amphitheater, magma explodes and gargles like

salt water lapping the throat. Every rock tells a story,

says the narrator. Fire leaps from a hole as if frightened. 

I am frightened. If I tell you the story of my stones, we must

make mention of a pipe. To ask the question is the same as 

doubting the answer. I could ask, what was I thinking before 

I passed out upstairs, in a room that wasn’t mine? And the rock 

might answer, say surely that I had only meant to lie

down, or still the room, or sit with my head in my hands, or vomit. 

Say that I was not thinking much of anything other than wanting

to be elsewhere, but when elsewhere turned to a dark impossible 

to peel, I peeled anyways, waking to find I had no clear source.

The pain was a lake of heat exploding, unwilling to quiet.


Sonnet #4


The pain was a lake of heat exploding, unwilling to quiet.

The details after are irrelevant. What matters is that I stood 

beneath the blue whale in the Museum of Natural History

and thought: it’s not that big. Constructed from photographs, 

the blue whale model at the Museum of Natural History was 

assigned female at birth. The whale bends near the tail, shapes

into an almost shoe. Beneath her, it’s easy to feel like your death is 

imminent. Imagine that weight for a moment: the crashing, crushing

sound. The pain had no clear source. Then blood. If a whale dropped 

over me, would another whale mistake the red particles of me for krill? 

One organism dissolved into the body of another. I am trying 

to tell you about being swallowed by a mouth you didn’t expect. 

I am trying to tell you about the darkness of a throat. 

Does what I’m saying here make sense?



Sonnet #5


Does what I’m saying here make sense? In the conservatory,

I picture an endless number of butterflies deprived of flight 

on account of fingers. And so they flutter above my head,

beating air like soft guilt, like they know what, as a child, I did. 

The museum website says, at any time, there are five hundred there, 

flapping against a mist that is both real and unnatural. To conserve, 

to remain. Across one-hundred species of butterflies in the conservatory, 

I imagine it feels the same to struggle against the ground. Surrounded 

by healthy green, a child points up, towards the branches, waiting 

for something to land. Don’t touch the wing, says the mother.

She does not say this. I learn later, after googling butterflies + wings

+ death that they are resilient creatures. That some attempt flight even 

when part of the wing is missing. Performing what I couldn’t. 

But I still touched the wings back then, because I could. 


Sonnet #6 

Because I could. 

Because in order to lay with men, I had to reshape. 

Because the person I was before a woman was a person waiting. 

Because if I say sex when I mean rape, it won’t matter that it hurt me. 

Because I was not sober the first time, I can’t be certain the blood was mine. 

Because I was sober the second time, I can be sure the blood was mine. 

Because some say there is a difference between night and day.

Because if you ask me to describe the men, I can’t be sure I won’t hurt you. 

Because I paid money to be here, among the dead animals. 

Because space is vast and narrated by Lupita Nyong’o in the planetarium. 

Because a dead thing in space is of no consequence. 

Because I say this, and for a moment, strain to believe it. 

Because I am at the Museum of Natural History.

Because I went out of my way to enjoy things, and still, it followed me.



Sonnet #7


I went out of my way to enjoy things, and still, it followed me. 

I’m talking about the rape. I went to the museum to

stare at animals I couldn’t get close to on account of the city,

and the rape was there too. An endless trail of me tailing

me. If every poem I write is a confession, let it be one of

great relief. I went to the museum and saw, among other

things, an attempt to document. The world in glass, staring

back. Insects pinned to walls, spreading like hands. Proof

that once, there was such thing as clarity. A body, just that,

unashamed of flight. When I die, I want my wings parsed.

I want you to look at me, wonder where I was, and who might’ve

loved me there. Behind the glass, I want the prints all over like a

child’s painting, evidence of light. And if the rapes are modeled too, 

let them be in the first box: a spread of birdwings, talons. 

Spencer Williams is from Chula Vista, California. She is the author of the chapbook Alien Pink (The Atlas Review, 2017) and has work featured in Apogee, PANK, Always Crashing, Bæst, Pacifica Review, and Bat City Review. She is currently a MFA candidate in poetry at Rutgers University-Newark.

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