Sunday Poem

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.

Carolyn Williams-Noren
from The Baltimore Review, Summer, 2014