American Life in Poetry: Column 068


Here is a marvelous little poem about a long marriage
by the Kentucky poet, Wendell Berry. It's about a couple
resigned to and comfortable with their routines. It is
written in language as clear and simple as its subject.
As close together as these two people have grown, as much
alike as they have become, there is always the chance of
the one, unpredictable, small moment of independence. Who
will be the first to say goodnight?

They Sit Together on the Porch

They sit together on the porch, the dark
Almost fallen, the house behind them dark.
Their supper done with, they have washed and dried
The dishes--only two plates now, two glasses,
Two knives, two forks, two spoons--small work for two.
She sits with her hands folded in her lap,
At rest. He smokes his pipe. They do not speak,
And when they speak at last it is to say
What each one knows the other knows. They have
One mind between them, now, that finally
For all its knowing will not exactly know
Which one goes first through the dark doorway, bidding
Goodnight, and which sits on a while alone.

From "A Timbered Choir", by Wendell Berry. Copyright
(c) 1998. Published and reprinted by arrangement
with Counterpoint Press, a member of the Perseus Books
Group (www.perseusbooks.com). All rights reserved. This
weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation,
The Library of Congress, and the Department of English
at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. This column does
not accept unsolicited poetry.