Poems: Manuela Williams

A Conversation (With Birds)

I need to ask:

have you ever
plucked the ashy feathers
from your own back?

fed every
squawking thought
and the children of those thoughts

and their children?

what wiped us out then
I can’t understand now

it’s a damp feeling
a crumpled,
sweaty, shapeless thing

I’ll try again:

do you know
how I know
you care?

it’s all in the stress dreams

like that one

where your spotted eggs
never hatch

or another:
the wrinkled, pink bodies
never sprout wings


you don’t have those dreams?


I’ll hold onto you
a hooked claw
a beak

just promise me
we’re in this
muddy nest together

we’re in it,



Body Work

I worked at a morgue for two slow years,
volunteered to clean the gurneys and the coolers

that look nothing like what you see on
CSI: Miami. I know it’s disappointing but things are a lot

more fluorescent in real life. Things smell a lot more like
spoiled milk. In the suite where they did all the autopsies, a doctor

stood next to me in his green scrubs. He handed me a hook
and a needle and a thick thread. He taught me how to sew up

the skin around the skull. He showed me how to use the
bone saw. I remember he had kind eyes, like a dog’s.

Over a meatloaf dinner, my mother sadly observed that
I cared more about the dead than I did about senior prom.

She was right. Just look where I ended up.
I once stumbled into the men’s bathroom by mistake

and threw up while someone at the urinal
pretended not to hear. But I could sense his vicious

stare as I watched the yellow bile swirl down and
disappear into the sewers with a fascination I

usually reserved for really bad TV and car accidents.
I thought I was in love with my coworker who

was a decade older than me. Late one night he drove me
home and I lingered, hoping he would french me right on

my mother’s porch while insects electrocuted
themselves to death against the single bulb

above our heads. I don’t remember what actually
happened and I wrote something troublingly vague

in my diary the next morning. I was eighteen and dumber
than I looked. God, I hope my mother never finds out. She would

die from the embarrassment of it all. Today, I’m asked what I thought
I was doing back then, saving souls or something spiritual

like that and I’m left wondering how I would even go about saving
the dead if they’ve already left their cavernous homes to mingle with

the disinfectant in the air. How could I have ever done anything if they’d
already been sucked up into the vents with all the other rotting smells?


dream work

I have this recurring dream
in which I am in a van

sliding through alleyways
where all my memories
are born out of

the steaming asphalt

and my long dead friend sits
in the driver’s seat
he wants to know

if we should turn left or right

but instead I always say

I’ve tried to summon you
for years

and he responds

your Ouiji board must have been
defective, then

I am meant to laugh
but this will never be a happy dream

we turn left

and park along the edge
of a chasm so that we can just

the whispering
of ghosts below

begging to be given shape, I think
begging me to look

I never do

instead I play at changing the color of
my friend’s eyes

because I can’t

I mean,

I can’t stand to remember
his eyes

after all this time

and when I am done memorizing
his reconstructed face

I wake up
and I think

grief and joy might be
ghosts now, too

left to beg in the dream

I think they might be holding

waiting for me

to look


Manuela Williams lives and writes in Reno, Nevada. She is the author of two poetry chapbooks: Witch (dancing girl press) and Ghost in Girl Costume (originally published as part of the 2017 Hard to Swallow Chapbook Contest). Her work has appeared in Bone Bouquet, wicked alice zine, and other magazines. She serves on Carve Magazine’s Resident Reading Committee and is the author of the “Build Your Brand” column at DIY MFA. She is currently pursuing an MFA in Poetry at the University of Nevada, Reno.

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