Ash on the Tongue

William Fargason

Lord I will never have all the fruits of the spirit Lord
there is always one just out of reach when I was twelve

I asked my mother what exactly joy was but didn't

understand any words that came out of her mouth we were
in Yellowstone I would not leave the car again I was not

holy the sins of my young head each time I wanted to

look down a girl's shirt each curse word I thought but didn't
say fuck shit damn each thought sin each sin filled the backseat

like an animal I had to wrestle like the bear on the side

of the road I hung out the car window to take pictures of
the wind against my head gentle for once the fur I could almost

smell no more than eight feet away two boy body lengths

I could almost believe this closeness meant I was safe
the bear walked the cracked yellow line of the road my father

hours later pissed again I'm not having fun I should be

for how much money this cost him Lord my father stood
in the edge of the water a rainbow trout writhing between

his hands the camera flashed Lord if all light that is not you

is sin then how do I enjoy anything here there is no limit
to failure especially mine no limit to how many times

water can be frozen into snow then melted back

the water on the lodgepole pines as if it was still raining still still
I can see the lake like a window I want to roll down

the mountains the aspens in their yellow bloom

each leaf only tasted like ash on the tongue each winter
only made me want to palm the bark and recoil again

back into the belly of the ridgeline to be closer Lord to you

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William Fargason is the author of Love Song to the Demon-Possessed Pigs of Gadara (University of Iowa Press, April 2020), winner of the 2019 Iowa Poetry Prize. His poetry has appeared in The Threepenny Review, Prairie Schooner, New England Review, Barrow Street, Indiana Review, Rattle, The Cincinnati Review, Narrative, and elsewhere. He received two awards from the Academy of American Poets, a scholarship to Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and a 2018-2019 Kingsbury Fellowship. He earned a BA in English from Auburn University, an MFA in poetry from the University of Maryland, and a PhD in poetry from Florida State University, where he taught creative writing. He is the Poetry Editor of Split Lip. He lives with himself in Tallahassee, Florida.  

Iowa City, Iowa

University of Iowa

“Every sense engaged, each filament of intellect glowing, memory fully aflame—it’s not easy to survive such aliveness. So implies poet Fargason in this Love Song. Heights of awareness and passion and fullness are met by counterparts in depths of doubt and despair, of a past that ground down, that haunt writer and reader. This is a book of darkness and hope, of vision and rage. Reading Love Song to the Demon-Possessed Pigs of Gadara made me feel that I am not alone in the grief and fear of this world—I am part of it and it a part of me, but that also one (I, we, the poet, the reader) is integrally part of something larger: the project of life as something utterly worth living as deeply as possible, paths and pasts and pigs and pain and all.”
—Brenda Shaughnessy, judge, Iowa Poetry Prize

“In Will Fargason’s first book, Love Song to the Demon-Possessed Pigs of Gadara, accelerating phrasal momentum and sharp figurative detail merge to put us in the prison made by child abuse and chronic pain. The narrow confines of such experience, its isolating effect, remind me of Elaine Scarry’s descriptions of torture. Fargason’s enactments of what’s happening to him and what has happened warp percep­tion, as when he sees a lake as ‘a window I want to roll down.’ But he can’t. He’s trapped. Entrances and exits are repeatedly inverted, mirrors mirroring mirrors. The speed of the poems and their disarmingly sudden stops keep us off-guard, push us past what we think we know. About anything—pain, death, fear, anger. These poems wake their readers up. What else is poetry for?”
—Elizabeth Arnold, author, Skeleton Coast

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