The Earth Could Open

The teacher who made us read Anna Karenina
also tried to tell us the earth
could open and take anything away.

We were the children of oilmen. Of
surgeons. We were
the children of wives.

One day after school I saw that plain-faced teacher
naked, unwrinkling a black swimsuit
up the dour rope of her torso. This gave me
a horror I kept for years: the faintness
clothing hides, her insignificant width.
The sag of skin unseen behind cloth.

She said her childhood neighbor was lost this way, and why
did the quake make the earth crack here
(the center of the calendar blotter on her wooden desk)
and not here (the edge of the blotter, near the stapler's jaw).

She said this comes to us all: one person survives
and another doesn't. That, and her rhythmic laps
in the black suit, polished with wet. Sallow arms
drew up, arched over; fingers reached toward
silence as she towed herself along, as though
each stroke were secret, and necessary, and must
not splash, and must not make a sound.

Carolyn Williams-Noren's poems have appeared in Salamander, Gigantic Sequins, Sugar House Review, and elsewhere. She's the author of a chapbook, Small Like a Tooth (dancing girl press, 2015) and the founder and caretaker of a free poetry library in the Minneapolis neighborhood where she lives with her family. (

Boxcar Poetry Review - ISSN 1931-1761