American Life in Poetry: Column 109


One big test of the endurance of any relationship is taking
on a joint improvement project. Here Sue Ellen Thompson
offers an account of one such trial by fire.


My parents argued over wallpaper. Would stripes
make the room look larger? He
would measure, cut, and paste; she'd swipe
the flaws out with her brush. Once it was properly

hung, doubt would set in. Would the floral
have been a better choice? Then it would grow
until she was certain: it had to go. Divorce
terrified me as a child. I didn't know

what led to it, but I had my suspicions.
The stripes came down. Up went
the flowers. Eventually it became my definition
of marriage: bad choices, arguments

whose victors time refused to tell,
but everything done together and done well.
Reprinted by permission of the author. Copyright (c)
2006 by Sue Ellen Thompson, from her book, "The Golden Hour,"
published by Autumn House Press. 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.