On the coldest day of the year,
a man stepped onto the 21 bus
carrying a vase of lilies, shell
pink, tall as a child in his arms.
He sat behind the driver
with the flowers in his lap.
A lady said, They’re beautiful.
He replied, They’re from a funeral.
Each of us had clutched our thumbs
inside our mittens and swayed,
kept our shoulders up, rubbed
our cheeks, and leaned into the street,
willing the bus to float toward us
from the horizon. But we didn’t
wade up the aisle and press
our arms around his shoulders. No
one touched his cheek and said,
I know. Outside, the sun
made glitter of the road, and
nothing grew. It was like in church
when everyone at once says
and forgive us. People
cram together, almost
touching, but nobody touches.
We rode, wrapped
in wool and silence,
past sealed houses
and their plumes of steam.
Carolyn Williams-Noren’s poems, including one nominated for a Pushcart Prize, have been published in Spoon River Poetry Review, Seems, and Literary Mama. The event that inspired “Still Life, St. Paul” took place in Saint Paul. She now lives in Minneapolis with her husband and two daughters.
Lillies photo courtesy Cp’n Monky. Browse Cp’n Monky’s photostream on Flickr.