The Distinguished Poet Leafed Through My Manuscript Then Told Me to Try to Write About a Tender Moment of Motherhood

Say, comforting your daughter when she skins her knee.
I bundle her into my lap, gather her teary face against mine, rock
and rock, my lips at her little flower of ear. Blood bright against her pale leg
reminds me, while I wait
for her to quiet, of rats
accustomed to feasting on bamboo fruit
who in years of famine eat instead
their own soft pink young.
Is it a mishap like this—
blood spilled—that prompts those
mothers to take the first taste? How neat
an urge—at last, a task
with a clear end, and afterwards,
sleep. Body untethered.
Noise and need transformed
to protein and silence. Chance
to start new.
Whether I think about this or not, my overripe body
nests my child. She wails, then wails
more softly, sniffs. You
say how tender this is. My skin
can comfort, no matter what
I imagine. You call that
tender. I call that
terrible power.

Carolyn Williams-Noren has poems appearing this year in Sugar House Review, Calyx, and Grist. In spring 2015, Dancing Girl Press will publish her chapbook, Small Animals. Carolyn is a 2014 winner of a McKnight Artist Fellowship, selected by Nikky Finney. More at