Carolyn Williams-Noren


Carolyn Williams-Noren is a 2014 winner of a McKnight Artist Fellowship, selected by Nikky Finney. She has recent poems in Gigantic Sequins and Bluestem and forthcoming in Sugar House Review and Calyx. She’s the founder and caretaker of a Little Poetry Library in the Minneapolis neighborhood where she lives with her family.

Evening, End of Summer

The closed canning kettle
cools on the stove.
Steam collects itself inside the lid
among enamel stars.

One drop grows heavy
and falls. No sound in the house
lasts longer than its rippled ring
through water and aluminum.

On the counter, jars of sliced peaches
lose their heat, suck down the centers
of their wet lids. We wait
for each little metal breath.

Besides all that canning accomplishes and evokes, its sounds alone are worth preserving.

Iris Wants to Learn to Float

Her hair knows already, freed
to its red vegetable self. Gravity dampened,
I hold her as I could her first year—
in two palms. Tell me how.

She’s willing to lean back, stare through yards of humid
space. Willing to become still. I say pretend
the water is your bed, but that’s not right.

Outside tall windows, the 21 bus courses by,
lit up. A walking woman’s grey hijaab billows
and snaps. Two boys in down jackets, hands
in pockets. Branches bend, unbend.

The surface a fine chain around my shoulders.
What are the words?

We are the saint’s saliva in a reliquary vial. I can believe
we are held here, carried along.

Think of music. Relax your legs.

What does relax mean?

Like a cooked noodle. Her body lightens,

heavies back. I tap her up, slow upside-down bounce
against the beginning of air.

Briefly, pigeons clutter past, flash
of silver bellies as they turn.

Each lift longer.

And how to say
be. And how to say
float. How to say every
body floats differently. Feel
where you must hold yourself.

Denise Levertov's 'Evening Train'—one of the first poems that ever entranced me—led to two of this poem's images, as well as, in a way I can't yet articulate, its spirit. This poem also has roots in the reliquary at the Monasterio de la Incarnación in Madrid, and of course at the Midtown YWCA in Minneapolis.