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American Life in Poetry: The Exam

By Ted Kooser

It's a rare occasion when I find dozens of poems by just one poet that I'd like to share with you, but Joyce Sutphen, who lives in Minnesota, is someone who writes that well, with that kind of appeal. Here is just one example. How many of us have marveled at how well our parents have succeeded at a long marriage?

The Exam

It is mid-October. The trees are in

their autumnal glory (red, yellow-green,

orange) outside the classroom where students

take the mid-term, sniffling softly as if

identifying lines from Blake or Keats

was such sweet sorrow, summoned up in words

they never saw before. I am thinking

of my parents, of the six decades they've

been together, of the thirty thousand

meals they've eaten in the kitchen, of the

more than twenty thousand nights they've slept

under the same roof. I am wondering

who could have fashioned the test that would have

predicted this success? Who could have known?

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. Poem copyright ©2010 by Joyce Sutphen, whose most recent book of poetry is First Words, Red Dragonfly Press, 2010. Poem reprinted by permission of Joyce Sutphen. Introduction copyright © 2009 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.