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American Life in Poetry: Betrayal

By Ted Kooser

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


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 2010 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. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.