American Life in Poetry: Column 261


All over this country, marriage counselors and therapists are right now speaking to couples about unspoken things. In this poem, Andrea Hollander Budy, an Arkansas poet, shows us one of those couples, suffering from things done and undone.


They decide finally not to speak
of it, the one blemish in their otherwise
blameless marriage. It happened
as these things do, before the permanence
was set, before the children grew
complicated, before the quench
of loving one another became all
each of them wanted from this life.
Years later the bite
of not knowing (and not wanting
to know) still pierces the doer
as much as the one to whom it was done:
the threadbare lying, the insufferable longing,
the inimitable lack of touching, the undoing

We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2009 by Andrea Hollander Budy, whose most recent book of poems is Woman in the Painting, Autumn House, 2006. Poem reprinted from Shenandoah, Vol. 59, no. 1, by permission of Andrea Hollander Budy and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2020 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.